Music's relevance for people affected by cancer: A meta-ethnography and implications for music therapists

Clare O'Callaghan, Fiona McDermott, Philippa Reid, Natasha Michael, Peter Hudson, John R. Zalcberg, Jane Edwards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Evidence supports music-based oncologic support interventions including music therapy. By comparison, little is understood about music-based self-care. This meta-ethnography examined five published qualitative studies to extend understanding of music's relevance, including helpfulness, for people affected by cancer; including children, adolescents, and adults with cancer, carers, and the bereaved. Objective: To improve understanding of music's broad relevance for those affected by cancer. Methods: Meta-ethnography strategies informed the analysis. Five studies were synthesized that included 138 participants: 26 children and 28 parents of children with cancer; 12 adolescents and young adults with cancer; 52 adults with cancer; 12 carers; and 8 bereaved. Studies' category and thematic findings were compared and integrated into third-order interpretations, and a line of argument. Perspectives from the five studies that illuminated the line of argument were developed. Results: Music usage can remain incidental, continue normally, and/or change because of cancer's harsh effects. Music can be a lifeline, support biopsychosocial and spiritual well-being, or become elusive, that is, difficult to experience. Music helps or intrudes because it extends self-awareness and social connections, and prompts play, memories, imageries, and legacies. Music therapists may help patients and carers to recover or extend music's helpful effects. Conclusions: Cancer care can be improved through offering music-based resources/services, which give cancer patients and carers opportunities to extend music usage for personal support and, for carers, to support patients. Music therapists can advocate for such resources and educate health professionals about assessing/recognizing when patients' and carers' changed music behaviors signify additional support needs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)398-429
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Music Therapy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Cancer
  • Meta-ethnography
  • Music
  • Music therapy
  • Self-care

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