Why choir singing may boost cancer patients’ health

Posted at 8:05 PM, Apr 09, 2016

Singing might become a new prescription for cancer patients.

A new study has found an association between choir singing and a boosted immune system in cancer patients. The study suggests singing in a choir could help put cancer patients in the best possible position to receive treatment and maintain remission.

The research published by the cancer journal founded by the European Institute of Oncology in Milan featured 193 patients who were either in remission, caring for cancer patients or were caregivers to a now-deceased cancer patient.

Each participant was involved in a Sing with Us choir in South Wales. Tenovus Cancer Care runs the Sing with Us choir and funded the study.

Participants sang in a single 70 minute choir rehearsal. Choir members gave a saliva sample and filled out a questionnaire assessing their mood and stress levels before and after rehearsal. The results indicated that singers’ mood increased and their stress levels decreased. This is the first study to demonstrate that the immune system can be affected by singing, according to the study.

“This research is so exciting, as it echoes everything all our choir members tell us about how singing has helped them,” Rosie Dow, head of Sing with Us at Tenovus Cancer Care and co-author of the research, said in a press release.

One participant, Diane Raybould, 64, has been singing with Bridgend Sing with Us choir since 2010. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 14 years ago. Her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time and died of the disease when she was 28.

“Singing in the choir is about more than just enjoyment. It genuinely makes you feel better,” Raybould said in a press release. “Having cancer and losing someone to cancer can be very isolating. With the choir, you can share experiences openly and that is hugely important.”

The sense of community and uplifting songs that a choir provides may lift patients spirits, but Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said more research would have to be done to know if this is an effective treatment.

“A study to show that choir participation reduces risk of cancer requires at least a decade or more of followup and requires several thousand people,” he said.

The researchers, who are employees of Tenovus Cancer Care, are launching a two-year study looking in more depth at the longer term effect of choir singing.

“I’ve seen peoples’ lives transformed through singing in our choirs so knowing that singing also makes a biological difference will hopefully help us to reach more people with the message that singing is great for you: mind, body and soul,” Dow said.