NEW RESEARCH IN the UK has found that singing in a choir can help people fight off serious illnesses including cancer.
A study by Tenovus Cancer Care and London’s Royal College of Music tested 193 members of five different choirs as part of Sing with Us (72 people were carers, 66 people were bereaved carers and 55 people were cancer patients).
Results showed that singing for an hour was associated with significant reductions in stress hormones, such as cortisol, and increases in quantities of cytokines – proteins of the immune system – which can boost the body’s ability to fight serious illness.
Dr Ian Lewis, Tenovus’ director of research and policy and co-author of the research, described the findings as “really exciting”.
“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 as part of 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.
Researchers found that the singers were more positive overall, and that those with the highest levels of depression experienced greatest mood improvement – something that’s associated with lower levels of inflammation in the body. There is a link between high levels of inflammation and serious illness.
Changes in hormones
Choir members gave samples of their saliva before an hour of singing, and then again just after. The samples were analysed to see what changes occurred in their hormones and immune system.
Dr Daisy Fancourt, co-author of the report, said many people affected by cancer experience psychological difficulties such as stress, anxiety and depression.
“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 wellbeing and quality of life amongst patients and put them in the best position to receive treatment.
Diane Raybould (64) took part in the study. She has been singing with the Bridgend Sing with Us choir since 2010.
Raybould was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 50. Her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time and died from the disease at just 28.
She said singing is an important part of her life.
Singing in the choir is about more than just enjoyment, it genuinely makes you feel better … Having cancer and losing someone to cancer can be very isolating. With the choir, you can share experiences openly and that is hugely important.
Following on from this research, Tenovus is launching a two-year study examining the long-term effect of choir singing over several months.
It will look at mental health, wellbeing, social support and ability to cope with cancer, alongside measuring stress hormones and immune function amongst patients, carers, staff and people who have lost somebody to cancer.