Number 9 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' highlights how art can relieve the symptoms of cancer treatment…

Figures show that cancer will affect almost half of us in our lifetimes by 2020. But survival rates have improved significantly in the last two decades.

In the UK, the four most common types of cancer are breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer. Macmillan puts the increased survival rates down to a greater focus on early diagnosis, advances in cancer treatments and better cancer care. However, they also note that some people are struggling to recover from gruelling treatments and the serious side effects.

Our engagement workshop with artist Sean Michael at the Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Young patients take part in a Paintings in Hospitals drawing activity at Great Ormond Street Hospital

Professor Jane Maher, chief medical officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "Many patients can be left with physical health and emotional problems long after treatment has ended. People struggle with fatigue, pain, immobility, or an array of other troublesome side-effects. We need to manage these consequences for the sake of the patient..."

The arts have been shown to diminish the physical and emotional suffering of cancer patients, as well as the side effects of treatment.

Something to think about, laugh about, talk about and figure out.

Visitor to Maggie's Cheltenham, talking about Paintings in Hospitals artworks

A review in 2016 identified 52 trials investigating the relationship between music and the physical and mental effects of cancer. The review discovered that musical interventions were associated with reductions in heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, fatigue and, most significantly, pain.

Art therapy has also been observed to relax cancer patients and make them feel better physically. This reduction of symptoms was attributed to feelings of satisfaction, beauty and pleasure when engaging with art. This is in addition to what we already know art therapy can provide.

Depression also has strong links to cancer. A series of articles in 2014 analysed data from over 20,000 patients. They found that major depression affected around one in ten patients with lung cancer, gynaecological cancer or breast cancer. From the Cochrane Review in 2016, we know that music can have a significant positive impact on depression for people with cancer.

The Paintings in Hospitals team installing art at Maggie's Cheltenham

In 2016, Paintings in Hospitals collaborated with Maggie’s Cheltenham and the oncology centre at Cheltenham General Hospital. We brought together groups of patients and staff from both sites to co-curate art displays from our collection for the centres. Through some controversial questions and passionate discussions on art, the group agreed on a set of artworks to be installed, including some by renowned British painter and poet Julian Trevelyan.

One visitor described our artwork as: “Something to think about, laugh about, talk about and figure out.”

So, regardless of whether you have arts experience or not, participating in music or art activities, including arts therapies, can help vent feelings of anger, fear and loneliness that often come with cancer.

And, sometimes, focussing on something beautiful, stimulating or inspiring is the perfect excuse not to have to hear, talk or think about an illness that can invade so many other parts of your life.

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