Creative Arts Beneficial to Cancer Patients

Creative arts therapy is based on the idea that the creative act can be healing. According to therapists, it can help people express hidden emotions, and reduce stress, fear, and anxiety. Many cancer patients and survivors use creative arts therapies including music, art, dance, drama, and writing to help manage the emotional and psychological side effects that often result from cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health and colleagues analyzed more than 2 dozen studies of creative arts therapies to see the effect of these therapies on cancer patients. They reviewed 27 randomized clinical trials that included 1,576 cancer patients and examined the effects of creative arts therapies on their psychological symptoms and quality of life. They found that creative arts therapies significantly reduced anxiety, depression, and pain and improved the quality of life in cancer patients.

The findings were published early online May 13, 2013 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

According to the review, the beneficial effects of creative arts therapies on depression, anxiety, and quality of life lasted only for as long as the therapy was given. The beneficial effects on pain, however, continued after the therapy stopped, with the biggest effect observed if the treatment was given while the patients were in the hospital.

One patient’s therapy leads to book

Author and artist Sally Loughridge demonstrated the use of creative arts therapy while writing and illustrating her book Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment.

After Loughridge was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, she struggled with feelings of anger, fear, and sadness. She found she needed help taking control of her negative emotions. Loughridge decided on a strategy: Every day after her radiation treatment, she would go to her studio and paint for 20 minutes. In addition to the paintings, Loughridge jotted down how she was feeling each day. The result is an illustrated journal of Loughridge’s cancer journey through 33 oil paintings.

Loughridge said, “You can be creative in whatever modality feels comfortable to you as a strategy to get through something difficult. If you can get the negative feelings outside of yourself – get it expressed – it can take some of the negative power away.”

Rad Art: A Journey Through Radiation Treatment is one of many books published by the American Cancer Society and available for purchase through the American Cancer Society online bookstore.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Effects of Creative Arts Therapies on Psychological Symptoms and Quality of Life in Patients With Cancer. Published early online May 13, 2013 in JAMA Internal Medicine. First author: Timothy W. Puetz, PhD, MPH, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.

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