Cigars Are No Better

May 15, 2015

By Medical Discovery News

Person smoking a cigarette

A common argument made by those who smoke cigars is that they are safer than cigarettes.  However, several studies argue that this is not true.

Cigar smoking has increased dramatically in the U.S. Between 2000 and 2011, small cigar sales rose 65 percent and large cigar sales increased 233 percent. Americans smoked more than 13 million cigars in 2010, twice the number from 2000. About 13.4 million people age 12 or older smoke cigars. A cigar culture has arisen, with cigar bars or clubs, shops with walk-in humidors, and magazines for those who consider themselves cigar connoisseurs. Their use among sports figures and celebrities has made them seem fashionable or sophisticated, a symbol of status or success.

The tobacco in cigars is cured and fermented to enhance the flavor, but this process also increases the amounts of harmful ingredients. Cigars come in three basic sizes, but the classic cigars are the large ones that contain more than half an ounce of tobacco, and some contain as much as an entire pack of cigarettes.

Just like cigarettes, cigars contain nicotine and can be very addictive. Most people who smoke cigars do not inhale, and therefore the nicotine is absorbed more slowly. However, cigar smoke dissolves more easily in saliva than cigarette smoke, enhancing the amount of nicotine absorbed.  Smokers absorb one to two milligrams of nicotine out of the eight total milligrams in cigarettes. The large cigars contain anywhere from 100 to over 400 milligrams of nicotine, and the amount a person absorbs varies greatly depending on how long the cigar is smoked, how many puffs are taken, and how much smoke is inhaled. Second- and third-hand cigar smoke is dangerous, just like it is with cigarettes.

In one study, scientists measured the levels of two biomarkers for tobacco as well as arsenic and lead in over 25,000 cigar smokers. Cigar smokers had higher levels of these carcinogens than nonsmokers and equal levels to cigarette smokers. Overall, the study found that cigars are not safer than cigarettes. Cigar smokers are less likely to develop lung cancer than cigarette smokers, but they are at higher risks of developing other cancers.

Those who inhale while smoking cigars are more likely to develop laryngeal cancer, lung cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, and cancers of the tongue, mouth, or throat than nonsmokers. Even those who don’t inhale the smoke directly still inhale the secondhand smoke and are at an increased risk of lung cancer. Cigar smokers are four to 10 times more likely to die from cancers of the mouth, larynx, and esophagus than nonsmokers.

Cigar smoking also increases the risk of other diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks, gum disease, and erectile dysfunction. One long-term study determined that cigar or pipe smoking costs people 10 years on average – they spent an extra five years in bad health and died five years earlier.

So before you take up cigars in an attempt to look cool, ask yourself if your image is more important than your health.

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Pancreatic Tumor Marker

May 23, 2014

By Medical Discovery News

Pancreatic Tumor Marker

Pancreatic cancer is the most deadly form of cancer. Each year, 45,000 Americans are diagnosed with it and every year 40,000 people (90 percent) die from it. One reason most people don’t survive pancreatic cancer is most of the pain and symptoms don’t appear until the cancer has progressed and treatment comes too late. Even then, pancreatic cancer is resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. Another reason is that there is not an easy, reliable test for pancreatic cancer – until now.

The pancreas is a small, oblong, flat organ at the back of abdomen between the stomach and the spine. It is responsible for regulating blood sugar levels by producing hormones like insulin. The pancreas also produces enzymes for the digestive system that neutralize stomach acid and help break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

While there aren’t many noticeable symptoms at first, as pancreatic cancer advances it can cause abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea, fatigue, and jaundice, when the skin, eyes, and mucus turn yellow. Since these symptoms are rather generic, even once someone starts experiencing them it is hard to tell the difference between pancreatic cancer and something benign, like gallstones or bile duct stones. While doctors normally use imaging techniques and endoscopies to distinguish between the two, scientists have identified a new marker that can be used to accurately diagnose a pancreatic tumor.

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic discovered that a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) plays an important role in the formation and growth of cancerous tumors. VEGF resides in bile, a fluid secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder that aids the digestion of fats as they move through the digestive system. Therefore, elevated levels of VEGF indicate the presence of cancer.

To detect pancreatic cancer, the team extracted bile from the pancreas and tested its levels of VEGF. Just like with other cancers, high levels of VEGF did mean there was cancer present. This test was accurate 93 percent of the time, and it didn’t confuse cancer with other digestive problems.

So far, these preliminary results show that this test is more accurate than other pancreatic cancer tests currently under development. Earlier this year, a research team from Copenhagen University Hospital discovered that testing patients’ blood for microRNA, pieces of genetic material, in certain patterns could detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages. The only downside is the high rate of false positives. Another blood test looks for the presence of a compound called CA19-9, which is elevated in 80 percent of pancreatic cancer patients.

Furthermore, measuring the amount of VEGF in bile is a relatively inexpensive test. It also suggests that drugs targeting VEGF may be worth experimenting as a way of treating pancreatic cancer.  

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Cancer-Fighting Bacteria

Aug. 30, 2013

By Medical Discovery News

Anyone who has experienced the nightmare of food poisoning would probably steer clear of any chance of that. But now, one of the very causes of such illnesses is being tested as a way to treat cancer.

Typically, Listeria monocytogenes infects people when they eat contaminated foods, resulting in 1,600 cases of listeriosis food poisoning each year. The symptoms are fever and muscle aches sometimes along with diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms. It primarily affects the elderly, newborns, or pregnant women, although occasionally people without these risk factors also become ill. In people with compromised immune systems, symptoms can include headaches, stiff necks, confusion, and convulsions. For some, the infection can lead to septicemia, which means that bacteria are in the blood and can lead to a much more rapid deterioration. Listeriosis can also lead to meningitis, a possibly fatal condition in which the bacteria infect the membranes that cover the brain and spinal column. In older adults and people with other serious medical problems, even immediate treatment may not be effective and they can die. 

But a weakened form of the bacterium might be able to deliver radiation directly to cancer cells and effectively kill them. Scientists genetically engineered listeria cells so they were coated with a protein called a monoclonal antibody. Then they attached a radioactive compound called rhenium-188 to the protein. When injected into mice with human cancerous tumors, these modified bacteria cells delivered radioactivity to the tumor cells without harming normal cells. 

The real advantage of this new approach is that it not only targets the primary tumor, but is even better at finding cancer cells that have migrated to other locations in the body. These other metastatic cancer cells are very difficult to target with other therapies. Scientists were unable to find any damage to normal tissues from either the bacteria cells or the radioactive rhenium. Both the bacteria and the rhenium were no longer detectable in the mice one week after the last treatment.

For the experiment, scientists used pancreatic cancer cells. Pancreatic cancer is the most lethal type of cancer, leaving only 4 percent of its victims alive five years after diagnosis. Its location makes diagnosis difficult, and because symptoms often aren’t recognized until the cancer is too advanced to survive, it’s usually too late. If the tumor is confined to the pancreas, then surgery is an option. Chemotherapy and radiation are also used to kill the cancer cells. That’s where this new treatment comes in.

Although this method must be refined to ensure that the bacteria used are as safe as possible and that no dangerous levels of radiation are released and accumulate in the body, it offers hope to the 40,000 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year.

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An Aspirin A Day

March 29, 2013

By Medical Discovery News

New research shows that aspirin truly deserves its nickname as the wonder drug, since now it even helps fight cancer. It’s naturally found in willow bark, which has been used as herbal medicine for thousands of years. People have been taking aspirin in its current for over 100 years.

Ancient Greeks used ground willow bark to treat fevers and control pain during in childbirth. Then, in the early 1800s, English physicians and scientists wanting to discover the key to willow bark’s effect isolated its active component, salicin. In 1890 a German chemist named Friedrich Bayer (sound familiar?) created a synthetic salicin molecule called acetylsalicylic acid. This derivative was less irritating to the stomach than willow bark and became the modern form that lines drugstore shelves. 

Since then, researchers have been finding even more medical uses for aspirin. In the 1960s, scientists began exploring aspirin’s ability to thin blood and tested its usefulness in preventing heart disease. To summarize many extensive clinical trials, it is now generally believed that taking low-dose aspirin on a daily basis helps reduce the chances of a second heart attack (but not the first) in men. But these studies also revealed some negative side effects of regular aspirin use, including bleeding ulcers and hemorrhaging retinas. 

Recent studies may have uncovered another, quite wonderful, effect of aspirin – reducing the risk of some common cancers. Initial studies found the occurrence of colorectal cancer was lower in those who took aspirin regularly. These studies followed individuals who took aspirin for its cardiovascular benefits, but also ended up decreasing their risk of developing certain tumors by almost 40 percent. And low-dose aspirin also appeared to reduce the spread of tumors in people with established cancer.

In a 2010 British study, those taking daily aspirin for at least five years reduced their risk of dying from colorectal, esophageal, stomach, pancreatic, brain, lung, and prostate cancers by more than 20 percent. These studies also cited issues of bleeding in the stomach and retinas, especially in older individuals. New guidelines for aspirin therapy suggest starting an aspirin regime at age 50 and stopping by age 70 in order to reduce this risk.

Several properties of aspirin might explain its cancer-fighting abilities. Aspirin inhibits enzymes called cyclooxygenases or COX, which normally convert a type of fatty acid into compounds that protect the stomach lining. This may be why aspirin can lead to stomach irritation, but may also explain why aspirin works well as an anti-inflammatory, since COX can contribute to inflammation. And preventing inflammation also prevents the growth of tumor cells.

Given its ability to combat the nation’s two most serious killers, the potential for expanding low-dose aspirin therapy looks positive. Overall, these results have scientists on the verge of declaring aspirin the first “general anticancer drug.” Of course, individuals should consult their physician before starting any drug regime. 

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