The Beat Goes On: Music Therapy Helps Cancer Patients Cope

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Chemotherapy, radiation, and medication are the usual words found in the cancer treatment vocabulary. Music isn't considered part of the conventional cancer-fighting plan, but patients at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) are feeling its benefits.

Beth Hardy, HCI's music therapist, knew she wanted a career in music but was unsure what path to take. In college, she learned about music therapya way she could use her musical skill to help people manage pain symptoms. She explains that non-painful input (like music) closes the "gates" and prevents the sensation of pain from traveling to the nervous system.

"If there's something that can distract you, like a beautiful song that you particularly love and connect to," says Beth, "it can actually decrease the perception of pain." She says music can't necessarily replace pain medication, but it can help patients manage their pain. This, in turn, can decrease the amount of medication they need.

Glenalee Casper says Beth and music have helped her deal with a longer than expected hospital stay. When a planned two-day visit stretched to two and a half weeks, Glenalee says Beth's music helped keep her spirits up. "It's so healing," she says. "Music brings color and happiness and joy. The emotions are part of our healing, and music is so important."

Music therapy is unique to each patient. Beth's therapy modes include playing live music, writing songs with patients, and using music as a relaxation tool. "I love it when patients fall asleep during therapy," she says. "It means the patient is relaxed and able to let go."

Music therapy can also help family members of cancer patients deal with stress. Beth says having music in the room can help families process the emotions they're going through. It can also give families a chance to interact in a new way, by writing a song or playing an instrument together. She says, "Having that experience can be really special for families."

Learn more about music therapy.

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, which means it meets the highest standards for cancer research and receives support for its scientific endeavors. HCI is located on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and is a part of the University of Utah Health Care system. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and operates several high-risk clinics that focus on melanoma and breast, colon, and pancreas cancers, among others. HCI also provides academic and clinical training for future physicians and researchers. For more information about HCI, please visit