Singing and cancer care

Singing has been shown to have mental health and wellbeing impacts for individuals living with a cancer, as well as carers, bereaved carers, people working with people with cancer, and anyone affected by cancer. Research (linked below) also illustrates that group singing leads to improved: ability to cope, self-esteem, self-belief, as well as leading to a decrease in anxiety. Singing has been shown to decrease stress hormones, measured after individuals had taken part in group singing, and this decrease has shown to boost immune response. Where a cancer diagnosis can lead to isolation and mental health challenges, the experiences of group singing presented in research illustrate how taking part in singing activities has impacted in the lives of individuals who are living with cancer and improved their quality of life. Singing group members are able to build their resilience and benefit from the peer support and community facilitated in singing sessions.

There is a large movement of singing for cancer care in Wales, through the Tenovus Sing with Us choirs, established in 2010. There are also choirs across England who have taken on Tenovus’ model, as well as choirs for people whose voices have been damaged through cancer treatments such as radiation therapy or who have had a laryngectomy. In Scotland, however, there are relatively few singing groups directly aimed at supporting individuals living with cancer. However, one such group – Hebridean Harmony –  is practicing on the Isle of Lewis, led my Carole Miller, who tells us there is much potential for singing for cancer groups to be facilitated across Scotland through cancer support charities such as Beatson and MacMillan.

Want to find a singing for cancer support group in your area?

If you would like to find a cancer care singing group in your area, please visit see the Scotland’s Singing for Health Map. Cancer care singing groups are marked with a pink and white heart. Please note that we have not identified any such groups in the current Glasgow pilot map.  If you know of a singing for cancer care group in any region of Scotland, please do add it to our map.

What does the research say and how can I access it?

A wealth of research has come of out of recent studies which explore different aspect of psychosocial benefits of group singing for individuals affected by cancer. For example, there are studies recording the changes in biomarkers such as oxytocin and cortisol and qualitative studies which focus on individuals’ experiences and quality of life. Much of this research is open access and you can find some key studies below:

Fancourt, D., Finn, S. Warran, K., et al. (2019) Group singing in bereavement: effects on mental health, self-efficacy, self-esteem and well-being BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care Published Online First: 26 June 2019. doi: 10.1136/bmjspcare-2018-001642

Fancourt, D., Warran, K., Finn, S., et al. (2019)  Psychosocial singing interventions for the mental health and well-being of family carers of patients with cancer: results from a longitudinal controlled study BMJ Open 2019;9:e026995. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-026995

Gale, N., Enright, S., Reagon, C., Lewis, I., & van Deursen, R. (2012). A pilot investigation of quality of life and lung function following choral singing in cancer survivors and their carersEcancermedicalscience6, 261.

Warran, K., Fancourt, D., & Wiseman, T. (2019). How does the process of group singing impact on people affected by cancer? A grounded theory study. BMJ open, 9(1), e023261.

There are also Restricted-access research papers where you are able to view the abstract and key information about the study or literature review:

Warran, K., Fancourt, D., & Perkins, R. (2019). The experience and perceived impact of group singing for men living with cancer: A phenomenological studyPsychology of Music47(6), 874–889.

Sophie Boyd