MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

This systematic review summarized the evidence of the effects of dance/movement therapy (DMT) on mental health outcomes and quality of life in breast cancer patients.

Ninety-four articles were found. Only empirical interventional studies (N = 6) were selected for the review:

  • randomised controlled trials (RCT) (n = 5)
  • non-RCT (n = 1).

Data from 6 studies including 385 participants who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, were of an average age of 55.7 years, and had participated in DMT programmes for 3–24 weeks were analysed.

In each study, the main outcomes that were measured were

  • quality of life,
  • physical activity,
  • stress,
  • emotional and social well-being.

Different questionnaires were used for the evaluation of outcomes. The mental health of the participants who received DMT intervention improved: they reported a better quality of life and decreased stress, symptoms, and fatigue.

The authors concluded that DMT could be successfully used as a complimentary therapy in addition to standard cancer treatment for improving the quality of life and mental health of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. More research is needed to evaluate the complexity of the impact of complimentary therapies. It is possible that DMT could be more effective if used with other therapies.

The American Dance Therapy Association defines DMT as a multidimensional approach that integrates body awareness, creative expression, and the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote the emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual to improve health and well-being. The European Association of Dance Movement Therapy adds “spiritual integration” to this list. The types of dance used in the primary studies varied (from traditional Greek to belly dancing), and for none was there more than one study. No study of eurythmy (the anthroposophical dance therapy) was included.

I do not find it hard to imagine that DMT helps some cancer patients. Yet, I find the rigor of both the review and the primary studies somewhat wanting. The review authors, for instance, claimed that they followed the PRISMA guidelines; this is, however, not the case. The primary studies tested DMT mostly against no therapy at all which means that no attempts were made to control for non-specific effects.

I think the most obvious conclusion is that, during their supportive care, cancer patients can benefit from

  • attention,
  • empathy
  • movement,
  • self-expression,
  • social interaction,
  • etc.

This, however, is not the same as claiming that DMT is the best option for them.

4 Responses to Dance therapy: is it effective?

  • Knowing what we know about stress, and exorcise, perhaps dance could claim a preventative anti cancer role.

    • @Ruthy

      Knowing what we know about stress, and exorcise

      (emphasis added)
      Um, I think that exorcism was meant to drive out demons, not cancer …

      • @Richard Rasker

        We can’t really blame Ruthy for having a Freudian slip. I don’t think any of us would be surprised if she was subconsciously thinking of exorcism, as an alternative therapy for cancer.

  • Well, at least this dance therapy appears to be free:

    DMT could be successfully used as a complimentary therapy …

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