St. Louis Symphony Lowers Blood Pressure, Eases Chemo

Study Compared No Music vs Music

Nick Mulcahy

March 22, 2019

ORLANDO, Florida — Live music by professional musicians can cut the anxiety — and physiologic indicators of anxiety — of patients with cancer undergoing chemotherapy treatment, suggests new research.

Patients undergoing chemotherapy at the Saint Louis University Cancer Center, Missouri, who listened to live string music (n = 30) played by visiting members of that city's world-class symphony had significant reductions in systolic blood pressure, respiration, and pulse compared with controls (n = 30) who heard no music, report Andrew Dwiggins, a music therapist at the center, and colleagues.

The effect of live music also reduced anxiety and diastolic blood pressure, but not significantly, the team noted in a poster presentation here at the National Comprehensive Cancer Network annual meeting.

The study took place during a series of single, 30-minute chemotherapy sessions at the Missouri center.

Dwiggins told Medscape Medical News that the study team, which includes Mark Varvares, MD, a medical oncologist at Saint Louis University, believes the overall effect of reduced anxiety likely improves the distribution of chemotherapy.

Other research has indicated that "medicine flows through veins much more efficiently," Varvares explained, "when the blood vessels are less constricted, when the blood pressure is lower, when respiration is lower, when you are less tense."

Music also helps, said Dwiggins, "normalize chemotherapy, which is terrifying and miserable at times for patients."

Cydney Warfield, DNP, a hematology-oncology nurse practitioner at Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida, endorsed the poster. "It's good to see the effect of music documented," she told Medscape Medical News, while reviewing the poster.

Warfield is familiar with music's positive effect on mood and physiology, having witnessed it on a near daily basis at Moffitt, where a bass player and violinist (who is a retired Moffitt nurse) play regularly in hallways and outside of patient rooms.

The musicians develop bonds with patients, she said, as shown by the bass player's recent invitation to attend and play at a patient's funeral.

Warfield, who was not involved with the study, is a former piano player and singer, originally from Chicago, where she attended high school at Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Central. The school piped in classical music in the hallways, including during class period changes. Thus, she has a long and unique exposure to the use of classical music in institutional settings.

"I think the poster is amazing," she summarized.

In the study, the investigators performed pre- and post-test measures at a
half-hour chemotherapy session among a group of 60 patients (60% male, 73% white, 27% black, mean age 62 years).

Mean Difference (pre- and post-measures)



Music Group

P value

Systolic blood pressure




Diastolic blood pressure








Respiration per minute




State-Trait Anxiety Inventory





The St. Louis Symphony has an outreach program that includes medical settings, and the cancer center has a 9-year relationship with the orchestra, which is highly regarded in the world of classical music.

Dwiggins said that two musicians, usually two string instruments, visit monthly. The professionals play soft, soothing music for 30- to 45-minute performances.

The field of music therapy as a 20th century profession started after World War II, when musicians visited Veterans' Hospitals in the United States to comfort returning soldiers who had experienced physical and emotional trauma, Dwiggins and colleagues point out in their poster.

2019 National Comprehensive Cancer Network annual meeting: Abstract 27. Presented March 21, 2019.

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