New research shows singing in a choir regularly for just an hour can help people to fight cancer by strengthening the immune system and relieving depression and stress.
The findings in the UK study by Tenovus Cancer Care and London's Royal College of Music ring true for Phil Flood (67) from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, who was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago.
She is a member of the three-year-old Clonmel-based choir, Something to Sing About, which is comprised entirely of cancer survivors and their carers.
“I feel oxygenated. You go in there and sometimes you could be a little bit slow going in, but you always come out on a high,” she says, adding that the feeling is shared by others in the choir.
The British research involving five choirs in Wales is the first study to show singing reduces cortisol, oxytocin and beta-endorphin and increases levels of cytokines.
Involvement in a choir for between three and six months reduces “levels of anxiety and depression” and improves quality of life, it found.
Researchers collected samples of saliva from members of the five choirs before and after practice, enabling them to analyse the fluctuations in levels of hormones and immune proteins.
"This is the first time it has been demonstrated that the immune system can be affected by singing," the report's co-author Dr Ian Lewis, the director of research at Tenovus, says.
“It’s really exciting and could enhance the way we support people with cancer in the future.”
He says rehearsals “could help to put people in the best possible position to receive treatment”.
Ms Flood heard about the Clonmel choir from her friend Ruth Farrell, as the two sat beside each other on a bus on the way to a radiotherapy clinic in Waterford.
“I would say that in general the choir has added an essential element to our lives,” Ms Flood says.
She has had surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy over the last five years
Most of the members of the 28-strong choir had not known each before they got cancer.
“Through singing it is incredible the bond and the friendship that has built up,” she says, and she is in no doubt about singing’s beneficial effects.