Creative Art Therapy Lessens Anxiety in Pediatric Patients With Cancer


Oncology nurses can bring creative art to their pediatric patients with cancer, thereby potentially reducing their anxiety levels, research showed.

Artist paint brushes and paint cans of paint over bright watercolor background | Image Credit: © -

Oncology nurses can bring creative art to their pediatric patients with cancer, thereby potentially reducing their anxiety levels, research showed.

Creative arts therapy can help improve quality of life in pediatric patients with cancer, according to findings published in Cancer Nursing. Further, oncology nurses can be instrumental in facilitating art among their young patients, explained study author Jennifer L. Raybin, PhD, CPNP, RN.

“Nurses are doing it all the time anyway,” Raybin, associate professor at Oregon Health & Sciences University, Schools of Nursing and Medicine, Pediatric Hematology Oncology, Doernbecher Children's Hospital, said in an interview with Oncology Nursing News. “If you walk on a unit, you’ll see that [nurses] have artwork up on their whiteboards and have music playing. If a patient is having a hard day, [an art intervention] doesn’t have to be fancy; play some music or get some easy art supplies, if that’s what the patient likes doing.”

Raybin and her team analyzed outcomes from the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory (PedsQL) symptom subscales — which measured pain and hurt, nausea, procedural anxiety, treatment anxiety, worry, cognitive problems, perceived physical appearance, and communication — in a total of 83 patients with cancer between the ages of 3 and 17 years. Eighteen patients had no creative art therapy, while 65 underwent creative art therapy.

Median patient age was 6, with 51.2% were female. A total of 37.3% had liquid tumors, 24.1% had solid tumors, and 38.6% had central nervous system cancer.

Findings showed that creative arts interventions were associated with a longitudinal improvement in anxiety. In particular, Raybin explained that the decrease was seen after the children underwent 4 or more art therapy sessions.

Creative art therapy sessions were directed by a licensed therapist, Raybin said, noting that there were also creative art interventions, which can be led by anyone.

“Ideally, we would leverage the amazing creative arts therapist to train all of us and local artists on how to work with these kids,” Raybin said. “[That would include] offering the child a medium [such as] paint or sculpting clay, or making music, or moving their body.”

Raybin explained that her connection to art therapy is a personal one. She said that she grew up dancing, and that moving her body in a creative way made her feel better. So, she wanted to take that experience to her patients undergoing cancer treatment.

“I don’t want them to be stuck in their infusion chairs,” she said. “I want them to be able to move and be creative through art such as writing, drawing, visual arts, music, or dance.”

Moving forward, Raybin said that she is receiving a grant from the National Institutes of Health to leverage art therapists to make creative art therapy scalable and more accessible in cancer treatment centers across the United States.

“When nurses remember to bring art to the patients, the nurses are so amazed and want to join in with it. The same thing goes for patients and parents,” Raybin said. “We know that art makes people feel better, so we want to spread it to other kids.”


Raybin JL, Zhou W, Pan Z, et al. Creative Arts Therapy Among Children With Cancer: Symptom Assessment Reveals Reduced Anxiety. Cancer Nursing. 2024;47(1):12-19. doi: 10.1097/NCC.0000000000001186

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