Music therapists have designed exercises that use this simple instrument to create clinical benefits

News, Your Health | 6 months ago

Music Therapy (with Kazoos!) for Lung Cancer Patients

Music therapists have designed exercises that use this simple instrument to create clinical benefits.

Lung cancer has seen some of the most impressive technological innovations in cancer care over the past decade. There are advanced bronchoscopic technologies and robotic tools that offer less invasive and more accurate biopsies. There are genetic tests that connect patients to new, targeted therapies.

Now, a much simpler tool may bring a clinical benefit to lung cancer patients: the kazoo.

Kazoos are at the center of a new initiative to help people with lung cancer breathe a little easier. Music therapists at Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute’s Department of Supportive Oncology, who help relieve pain and anxiety through evidence-based practices, launched The Kazoo Blews last month. The program, which receives funding from the 24 Foundation, gives lung cancer patients kits that contain a kazoo and a link to a music therapy video series that guides them through warm-up techniques and exercises. This isn’t just fun and stress relief, however; the kazoos serve a similar purpose as an incentive spirometer, the tool that helps patients breathe fuller breaths and strengthen their lungs.

“There’s a very serious clinical need for the kazoo kits, but there’s also a fun factor to them,” says Susan Yaguda, the manager of integrative oncology at Levine Cancer Institute. “I think of my dad who had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and he hated his incentive spirometer. It’s just not fun, and it’s a boring incentive. I think he would have loved to have a kazoo, and it would’ve captured the same intention of that boring spirometer.”

Although making music with a kazoo may seem easy – and maybe even a little silly – it requires deep breathing and sustained air flow. When a person runs out of air, their kazoo runs out of noise. When we blow into a kazoo correctly, it’s a deep breathing exercise – which strengthens lung capacity in the process. For people with lung cancer who have decreased breath capacity, both the awareness of airflow and the strengthening of it are important to quality of life.

Dean Quick, MT-BC, the music therapist who came up with this idea, sees the potential for anxiety relief, too.

“There is a relaxation piece to this,” Dean says. “As you play a kazoo, you’re exercising your lungs and probably taking fuller breaths. That’s going to calm your body down. And then there’s a connection with the creative process, which can help refocus attention to things that are positive.”

It’s a lot of patient benefit coming from a simple kazoo. When the integrative oncology team introduced the idea to Kathryn Mileham, MD, an oncologist who specializes in lung cancer at Levine Cancer Institute, who also serves as the chief of the thoracic oncology division, she became just as excited about the idea and has become a big supporter of it.

So why did the music therapists choose a kazoo and not, say, a harmonica? Dean says that kazoos are not only less expensive, but they’re easier to keep clean: People can wash them in the top rack of their dishwasher. In addition, kazoos come with a low learning curve, so it’s easy to get other people involved in the project, too. Quick and Yaguda hope that patients play their kazoos with others, perhaps their caregivers, friends, children or grandchildren.

“Creating music affects mood in very positive ways. Now, granted, you're not going to be doing too much emotional depth work with the kazoo. That’s for other types of music therapy,” laughs Dean. “But to connect with family and friends while making music can offer benefits to a person's life.”

Patients are just now receiving their first kazoo kits. In the meantime, Dean and Yaguda have had surprise voluntary program testers: fellow Atrium Health teammates.

“We’ve had some teammates want to try them, and as stressed as our colleagues have been this year, it’s been nice to give them a little joy,” Susan says. “And it’s not just about giving them a little joy, but maybe it can help them use breath to soothe the nervous system. This wasn’t our original intention, but we’ve seen some overflow benefits.”

Dean jokes that one day he dreams of assembling a kazoo choir full of lung cancer patients making music together. But in the meantime, he hopes that the kazoos help patients have a little fun while they build stronger breaths. He recognizes how important air capacity is to enjoy the simple moments of daily life.

“It’s about the enjoyment someone can get from singing, taking a walk, even laughing really hard,” Dean says. “You want to have a great handle on your breath support so you can fully engage in the world around you.”

Susan sees this as an important piece of integrative oncology team at Levine Cancer Institute, which enjoys thinking creatively to find new ways to help cancer patients improve their lives. The team hopes to do research into the outcomes associated with The Kazoo Blews, hoping that such a simple and inexpensive program may offer a good option for cancer centers everywhere, including small community cancer centers around the world who may have limited resources.

“What I really love about what we do at integrative oncology is that we have ways of helping people that are low tech, low cost and potentially big impact,” Susan says.

Learn more about integrative oncology at Levine Cancer Institute.