Project Summary

What is the research about?

Anxiety is one of the most common and distressing symptoms for cancer survivors. Symptoms of anxiety include worry, restlessness, and/or muscle tension. Anxiety can worsen sleep, mood, energy levels, and quality of life. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to treat anxiety. Music therapy uses the healing qualities of music to relieve stress and help people cope with the thoughts and feelings associated with anxiety. Both music therapy and CBT are effective for treating anxiety symptoms. However, it remains unclear which treatment is better for which individuals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life around the world and caused significant psychological distress for many people. More than ever, there is an important need for effective mental health treatments that everyone can easily access. Both music therapy and CBT can be delivered via videoconferencing to reach people who may have difficulty attending in-person visits.

The research team is conducting a clinical trial to compare the short- and long-term effectiveness of music therapy and CBT delivered via videoconferencing to address anxiety and related symptoms in cancer survivors. The team is also trying to identify how individual characteristics (for example: sex, race/ethnicity, educational background) may affect the treatment results.

Who can this research help?

There will likely be over 22 million cancer survivors living in the United States by the end of this decade. Doctors and other healthcare providers can use results from this study to decide which virtual treatment option (music therapy or CBT) to offer cancer survivors for anxiety and related symptoms. As telehealth becomes more widely used, cancer survivors and their families can use the study results to decide between different virtual treatment options and choose the one that best meets their personal mental health needs.

What is the research team doing?

The research team is conducting a clinical trial that compares music therapy and CBT for the treatment of anxiety symptoms in cancer survivors. They are recruiting participants from a comprehensive cancer center with clinics located in New York and New Jersey, and from a cancer hospital located in South Florida. English- and Spanish-speaking cancer survivors age 18 and older who are experiencing anxiety symptoms (for example: worry, restlessness) for at least one month are eligible to participate. The team is randomly assigning participants to receive treatment with either music therapy or CBT. Participants receive seven weekly treatment sessions over a seven-week period. Trained therapists deliver all treatments via videoconferencing.

The team is following participants for six months to determine the effectiveness of music therapy and CBT. Participants are answering online survey questions about their symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue, and insomnia, as well as their quality of life. The team is also tracking the medications participants use to treat their anxiety symptoms. In addition, the team is inviting a group of 60 diverse participants to participate in private interviews to share their personal experiences in the study with music therapy or CBT.

Cancer survivors, psychologists, music therapists, social workers, oncologists, doctors, and community groups worked with the research team to plan the study.

Project Information

Jun Mao, MD, MSCE
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Key Dates

July 2021
January 2026


Award Type
Health Conditions Health Conditions These are the broad terms we use to categorize our funded research studies; specific diseases or conditions are included within the appropriate larger category. Note: not all of our funded projects focus on a single disease or condition; some touch on multiple diseases or conditions, research methods, or broader health system interventions. Such projects won’t be listed by a primary disease/condition and so won’t appear if you use this filter tool to find them. View Glossary
Populations Populations PCORI is interested in research that seeks to better understand how different clinical and health system options work for different people. These populations are frequently studied in our portfolio or identified as being of interest by our stakeholders. View Glossary
State State The state where the project originates, or where the primary institution or organization is located. View Glossary
Last updated: March 15, 2022