Smoking cessation, vocal therapy and a blood test that may help monitor cancer

Medical Minutes

E-cigarettes may help some smokers quit

Vaping may be helping some people kick the habit. In the United States, the smoking cessation rate increased for the first time in 15 years. Researchers conducted a population-level analysis of national surveys conducted from 2001 to 2015. The study suggests e-cigarettes helped users of the electronic devices to quit smoking traditional cigarettes.

The annual rate of people who quit smoking has hovered around 4.5 percent for years but in the 2014-15 Current Population Survey-Tobacco Use Supplement (CPS-TUS) survey the smoking cessation rate increased to 5.6 percent. The 1.1 percentage point increase is statistically significant, representing approximately 350,000 additional smokers who quit in a 12 month period.

“Our analysis of the population survey data indicated that smokers who also used e-cigarettes were more likely to attempt to quit smoking, and more likely to succeed,” said study author Shu-Hong Zhu, PhD, UC San Diego professor of Family Medicine and Public Health and director of the Center for Research and Intervention in Tobacco Control, San Diego, Calif. “Use of e-cigarettes was associated both with a higher quit rate for individuals as well as at the population level; driving an increase in the overall number of people quitting.”

The researchers examined the relationship between e-cigarette use and smoking cessation using data collected by the US Census CPS-TUS, a national survey of adults 18 years or older conducted to obtain information about changes in the country’s use of tobacco products. It is based on the largest representative sample of smokers and e-cigarette users available.

Survey participants were asked about their use of traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes over a 12 month period. Researchers found that 65 percent of smokers who used e-cigarettes within the previous 12 months had attempted to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, compared to 40 percent of smokers who did not use e-cigarettes. Overall, 8.2 percent of smokers who used e-cigarettes successfully quit smoking traditional cigarettes, while 4.8 percent of smokers who did not use e-cigarettes were successful.

Vocal exercises hit high note with Parkinson’s patients

Taking a music therapy class may be highly beneficial to individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Researchers at Iowa State University are reporting that a class, which includes a series of vocal exercises and songs, may help individuals on a number of levels.

Singing uses the same muscles associated with swallowing and respiratory control and these two functions are complicated by Parkinson’s disease. Elizabeth Stegemöller, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, and her colleagues have found that singing significantly improves throat muscle activity. The results are published in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation and Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

“We’re not trying to make them better singers, but to help them strengthen the muscles that control swallowing and respiratory function,” said Stegemöller. “We work on proper breath support, posture and how we use the muscles involved with the vocal cords, which requires them to intricately coordinate good, strong muscle activity.”

Participants in this music therapy class say they’ve noticed other positive changes from singing. One of the participants in the class, who had Parkinson’s for more than 10 years, said she noticed she don’t have much volume in her voice. She knew this was common with Parkinson’s and not something to take lightly. The classes have helped her considerably.

Participants, their caregivers and families have noticed other benefits. Stegemöller said they have reported changes related to stress, mood and depression.

Blood test may help monitor whether cancer is progressing

Researchers are now closer to creating a blood test that can identify breast cancer patients who are at increased risk for developing brain metastasis. In addition, it may be possible also to monitor disease progression and response to therapy in real time.

The discovery of identifying a distinct group of cells in the bloodstream of patients who have breast cancer brain metastases could lead to the creation of more sensitive screening tools. In the Aug. 4 online issue of Nature Communications, a proof-of-concept study led by Dario Marchetti, Ph.D., detected a distinct group of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) associated with brain metastasis. The finding brings cancer researchers closer to understanding how the “seeds” of

metastatic disease can thrive in breast cancer patients and cause it to spread to the brain.

“Our research confirmed that CTCs in breast cancer brain metastases are distinct from other circulating tumor cells. Moreover, unlocking the mystery of how these seeds of metastatic disease survive and thrive over a period of years, sometimes decades, is an enigma in cancer,” said Marchetti, senior author and director of the Biomarker Research Program at Houston Methodist Research Institute, Houston, Texas. “Now we can take this information and develop a more sensitive screening tool to detect metastatic cancer in the blood, possibly even before metastasis is radiologically detectable by MRI.”

Magnetic resonance imaging is the accepted standard-of-care to diagnose breast cancer brain metastasis (BCBM) in patients. However, in most cases, by the time MRI detects the metastatic mass, the cancer has progressed to a stage where few curative treatment options are available. It now may be possible to overcome this hurdle.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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