Art Therapy for Chronic Cancer-Induced Pain

Health & Wellness
Reading Time: 4 mins
Publication Date: 02/19/2013
Fact Checked
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Reviewed is the nation’s most trusted mesothelioma resource

The Mesothelioma Center at has provided patients and their loved ones the most updated and reliable information on mesothelioma and asbestos exposure since 2006.

Our team of Patient Advocates includes a medical doctor, a registered nurse, health services administrators, veterans, VA-accredited Claims Agents, an oncology patient navigator and hospice care expert. Their combined expertise means we help any mesothelioma patient or loved one through every step of their cancer journey.

More than 30 contributors, including mesothelioma doctors, survivors, health care professionals and other experts, have peer-reviewed our website and written unique research-driven articles to ensure you get the highest-quality medical and health information.

About The Mesothelioma Center at

  • Assisting mesothelioma patients and their loved ones since 2006.
  • Helps more than 50% of mesothelioma patients diagnosed annually in the U.S.
  • A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
  • 5-star reviewed mesothelioma and support organization.
Learn More About Us


"My family has only the highest compliment for the assistance and support that we received from The Mesothelioma Center. This is a staff of compassionate and knowledgeable individuals who respect what your family is experiencing and who go the extra mile to make an unfortunate diagnosis less stressful. Information and assistance were provided by The Mesothelioma Center at no cost to our family."
Mesothelioma patient’s daughter
  • Google Review Rating
  • BBB Review Rating

How to Cite’s Article


Franz, F. (2020, October 16). Art Therapy for Chronic Cancer-Induced Pain. Retrieved December 2, 2022, from


Franz, Faith. "Art Therapy for Chronic Cancer-Induced Pain.", 16 Oct 2020,


Franz, Faith. "Art Therapy for Chronic Cancer-Induced Pain." Last modified October 16, 2020.

When you’re in pain, what do you reach for? Painkillers? Heating pads? Numbing creams?

How about a paintbrush?

Art therapy is widely accepted as a supportive therapy for cancer patients, but it is mostly used to help patients cope with emotional complications. Since the therapy is seen as a way to help patients tap into hard-to-express feelings, the American Cancer Society specifically recommends it for patients who are dealing with anxiety, fear or depression.

However, some patients may also use it to help cope with cancer-induced pain.

A new study suggests that art therapy can help patients manage chronic discomfort, and in turn, improve their quality of life. Compared to other health conditions like heart disease or kidney failure, chronic pain has one of the most severe negative impacts on quality of life, so it’s natural for one to improve along with the other.

The study, which appears in the first 2013 issue of Arts & Health, surveyed a small segment of patients from a Canadian hospital. Participants only needed to meet two qualifying criteria: They needed to be in persistent pain, and they needed to be actively creating art. Their art could be anything from poetry or painting to woodwork or photography.

When asked to rate their pain on a scale of zero (no pain) to 10 (extreme pain), patients reported an average score of 5.56. Most of the patients had been experiencing this discomfort for at least five to 10 years; seven had been coping with it for at least a decade.

Only one patient, whose pain originated from a poorly done surgery, said that the pain did not in some way make it difficult to pursue artistic therapy. Most patients had to creatively work their art around limitations like fatigue, lack of focus, and trouble staying comfortable in a single position for an extended period of time.

However, as the patients continued to make to creative arts a regular part of their lives, they indicated that it was their preferred way to escape from the cancer experience.

“On the suggestion of my physiotherapist,” one patient wrote, “I began drawing and painting as a distraction from pain.”

Another began waving wool mats to fill the periods late at night where pain kept them awake.

“It feels so much better to pick up my work and hook through the night when I can’t sleep and have to move around,” the patient recorded on their questionnaire.

More than a Distraction

Although it’s a healthy and highly effective distraction mechanism, art therapy serves several other healing purposes. For some patients, it’s a way to feel fulfilled; for others, it’s a way to create a connection to others in the face of a highly isolating disease.

Perhaps better than most, mesothelioma patients understand the isolating nature of pain. Most mesothelioma patients experience a dull, building pain in their chest or abdomen. This pain prevents many patients from performing essential duties, much less attending social outings with friends.

In the study, many patients felt that their art helped them cope with feelings of loneliness.

“There are so many social stigmas and barriers associated with chronic pain,” one patient wrote. “It’s hard not to lose hope and courage, but creative endeavors can change your outlook and make you feel less isolated.”

Art therapy also serves as a way for patients to take control of their lives during a time when everything seems so uncertain. Once again, mesothelioma patients experience this on an elevated level; the aggressive, treatment-resistant nature of their cancer can be especially hard to cope with.

“You need to accept your condition enough to move on, not to the point where you give up and give in,” one artist noted.

This acceptance may be key to healing, research indicates. Several studies agree that patients who can actively accept the presence of their pain have higher levels of emotional, physical and social functioning. And by finding meaning in their experiences, patients can focus on the broader scope of recovery, not just the part where they have to get through pain to get better.

Have you heard of art therapy before? Would you try it? Have you tried it already? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.

Free Mesothelioma Resources
Get Access to Free Resources for Patients & Loved Ones