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Listening to Mozart May Help Doctors Detect Colon Polyps

Renee DespresFriday, June 15, 2012 - 20:40

Scheduled for a colonoscopy? Ask your physician to play Mozart while she’s peering through that endoscope, and she may do a better job of detecting potentially cancerous polyps in your colon and rectum, called adenomas. Colonic polyps are common precursors to colon cancer. Adenomas are a type of polyp that may develop into invasive colorectal cancer. Adenocarcinoma of the colon is the most common form of colorectal cancer.

A research team  from the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center at Houston reported these results October 31 at the American College of Gastroenterology’s (ACG) 76th Annual Scientific meeting in Washington, DC. The investigators, Catherine Noelle O’Shea, DO and David Wolf, MD, wanted to find out whether listening to Mozart while performing a colonoscopy had any effect on how frequently endoscopists detected pre-cancerous growths in the colon called adenomas.  

For this randomized controlled trial, the UT researchers recruited two experienced endoscopists. They calculated how frequently each endoscopist detected adenomas over the year prior to the study, thus establishing a baseline detection rate. Then the researchers tracked the endoscopists’ adenoma detection rate during screening colonoscopies while listening to music of Mozart. Then the researchers assessed how frequently the endoscopists detected adenomatous polyps and compared those numbers to baseline rates.

“Both endoscopists had higher adenoma detection rates listening to music when compared with their baseline rates,” said lead researcher Dr. O’Shea.

The first endoscopist started with a baseline detection rate of 21.24 percent. During the study, this endoscopist (who was blinded to outcome), had an adenoma detection rate of 66.7 percent listening to Mozart and 30.4 percent without the music. The second endoscopist’s baseline detection rate was 27.16 percent. During the  trial, the second endoscopist wat not blinded to the outcome and detected adenomas 36.7 percent of the time while listening to Mozart and 40.5 percent of the time without the music.

O’Shea and Wolf based their question on an intriguing body of research about Mozart’s music. Several studies suggest that listening to Mozart’s music may significantly improve short-term spatial temporal reasoning – the type of reasoning you use when you visualize the what the board would look like after several moves in a game of chess. Researchers have dubbed this phenomenon “the Mozart effect.”

Both globally and in the United States, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death. According to data from the World Health Organization, 940,000 new cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed in 2010, surpassed only by breast cancer (just over one million) and lung cancer (1.2 million). The American Cancer Society estimates that in the United States in 2011, 101,700 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed and colorectal cancer will cause 49,380 deaths.

Many of these cancers could have been prevented with early, high-quality colonoscopy. Colonoscopy is a procedure in which a health professional examines the colon and rectum using a long, thin, lighted tube called an endoscope. Small polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy exam, preventing the development of colorectal cancer. When detected in its earliest and most treatable stage, the survival rates for colorectal cancer exceed 90 percent.

The American College of Gastroenterology recommends colonoscopy as a “preferred” colorectal cancer prevention strategy, because small polyps can be removed during the procedure. But to be removed, those polyps need to be detected. Thus, one way that physicians evaluate the quality of colonoscopy is the percent of adenomatous polyps found.

 “Adenoma detection rate is linked to a reduction in colorectal cancer incidence, so it is an important quality indicator for colonoscopy,” said Dr. O’Shea in a press release. “Anything we can do get those rates up has the potential to save lives. While this is a small study, the results highlight how thinking outside the box--in this case using Mozart--to improve adenoma detection rates can potentially prove valuable to physicians and patients.”


American Cancer Society. (2011, March 2). What are key statistics about colorectal cancer? Available at http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/ColonandRectumCancer/DetailedGuide/colorectal-cancer-key-statistics

American College of Gastroenterology. (2011, October 27). Physicians Who Play Mozart While Performining Colonoscopy May Improve Adenoma Detection Rate. Press Release. Retrieved from http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/582215/

World Health Organization. (2010). Global cancer rates could increase by 50% to 15 million by 2020. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2003/pr27/en/