Background: The treatment of cancer-related symptoms continues to represent a major challenge for health care providers. Traditional approaches often require pharmacologic interventions which have potential side effects. A wide variety of approaches using complementary and alternative medicine (including music therapy) have demonstrated some early benefit. The role of a visual art intervention on pain, anxiety and mood has not been studied to date.

Patients and Methods: Our patient population consisted of 21 Hematology inpatients at the Mayo Clinic (19 women, 2 men with a median age of 53.4 years, [range19 to 73]), with the following hematological disorders: Acute Leukemia (n = 6); Lymphoma (n = 5); Multiple Myeloma (n = 5); and a variety of other malignant conditions (n =5). Patients and their families were invited to participate actively or passively (i.e. observe) in a 1 to1 visual art intervention, conducted by a trained artist educator using different forms of art media. Baseline assessments of pain, anxiety and mood were conducted just prior to the intervention using Visual Analog scales (VAS), the Spielberger State Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) respectively. The same scales were administered immediately following completion of the art intervention.

Results: Twenty of 21 patients completed the intervention, and all 20 patients actively participated. A significant improvement in positive mood scores (4.6 [95%CI: (1.7, 7.5)] or 14.6% change, p=0.003), decrease in negative mood scores (−3.4 [95%CI: (−0.7, −6.1)] or 18% change, p=0.016) and in anxiety scores (−9.2 [95%CI: (−14.2, −4.1)] or 21.6% change, p=0.001) were observed. Among the 14 patients who reported some pain (VAS>0) prior to the intervention, the mean VAS pain score improved significantly (−1.4 [95%CI: (−2.4, −0.3)] or 35.1% change, p=0.017). Universally all patients commented that they would participate in art-based interventions in the future

Conclusions Bedside visual art interventions can decrease pain and anxiety, and improve mood in hospitalized hematological patients with cancer diagnoses. These intriguing findings warrant future placebo-controlled studies, and suggest that these alternative measures should be considered as an adjunct to conventional therapies in patients with cancer-related pain, and symptoms of anxiety and decreased mood.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.