Creative Arts Therapy Improves Overall Quality of Life in Young Cancer Patients

Creative art therapy (CAT) can improve overall quality of life for cancer patients, according to a study titled “Quality of Life Outcomes with Creative Arts Therapy in Children with Cancer” that was published in the Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing. Jennifer Raybin, PhD—a former dancer and dance instructor, as well as CU Cancer Center member—is a nurse practitioner who led the Palliative Care Program at Children’s Hospital in Colorado, and believes creative activities can help with patients’ mind-body connections by improving their moods and even lessen symptoms like pain, nausea, and fatigue.

During CAT, patients worked with Patricia Mowry, a licensed dance and movement therapist from the Ponzio Creative Arts Therapy Program at Children’s Colorado. Mowry’s sessions were individualized and designed to help patients express and process their emotions by repurposing radiation masks into art, making cloth mini-me dolls, using props like scarves, balls, and parachutes to create movement, and yoga breathing exercises for pain control.

The study looked at 98 children aged three to 17 years old, involving their parents in the study as well. Eighteen received no CAT, 32 received low-dose CAT, and 33 received high-dose CAT. Children—and their parents—who received CAT reported notably higher quality of life and posture improvements, indicating changing moods and enhanced sense of self. Pediatric cancer is the leading cause of death out of all childhood diseases, with an estimate of 10,470 future pediatric cancer diagnoses for those aged zero to 19 in 2022, with 1,050 estimated to die of the disease, making this research vital.

CAT differs from personal art, dancing, or music making since it’s guided by a trained therapist, although personal creative activities are also associated with better quality of life. However, a CAT professional can assess patients’ needs and react accordingly by providing individualized interventions designed to specifically help each patient.

Raybin hopes to conduct a multi-site study of CAT programs next, so they can become a more common part of cancer care for young patients and eventually be covered by insurance.

“My lifelong dream has been to blend art and science, and to show the scientists that art makes you feel better,” says Raybin. “Curing cancer isn’t enough. Creative arts therapy helps patients negotiate the physical and psychological issues surrounding serious illness, while providing an enjoyable aspect to otherwise difficult treatment.”