Singing in a choir may be just what the doctor ordered for cancer patients, scientists have found.
One hour of choral singing was found to boost levels of immune proteins, reduce stress and improve mood.
Dr Ian Lewis, director of research at the charity Tenovus Cancer Care, who co-led the study, said: “These are really exciting findings. We have been building a body of evidence over the past six years to show that singing in a choir can have a range of social, emotional and psychological benefits, and now we can see it has biological effects too.
“We’ve long heard anecdotal evidence that singing in a choir makes people feel good, but this is the first time it’s been demonstrated that the immune system can be affected by singing.
“It’s really exciting and could enhance the way we support people with cancer in the future.”
The research involved a collaboration between Tenovus Cancer Care and the Royal College of Music.
A total of 193 members of five different choirs were tested for levels of the stress hormone cortisol and cytokines – immune system signalling molecules that boost the body’s ability to fight serious illness.
Choir members provided saliva samples for analysis just before and after singing for an hour.
The study also found mood improvements and reduced levels of inflammation associated with singing that were greatest for individuals suffering from depression and poor mental well-being.
“Many people affected by cancer can experience psychological difficulties such as stress, anxiety and depression,” co-author Dr Daisy Fancourt, from the Centre for Performance Science, a partnership between the Royal College of Music and Imperial College London, said.
Research has demonstrated that these can suppress immune activity, at a time when patients need as much support as they can get from their immune system.
“This research is exciting as it suggests that an activity as simple as singing could reduce some of this stress-induced suppression, helping to improve well-being and quality of life amongst patients and put them in the best position to receive treatment.”
The findings are published in the on-line journal ecancermedicalscience.
All the participants had been affected by cancer in some way – either by having the disease, or caring for a patient, or losing a loved one.
Diane Raybould, 64, who took part in the study and has been singing with the Bridgend Sing With Us choir since 2010, said singing in the choir is about more than just enjoyment.
“It genuinely makes you feel better. The choir leaders play a huge part of course, but so does the support of the other choir members, the inspirational programme and uplifting songs,” she said.
Raybould was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 50 and lost a daughter who died from the same disease at just 28.