Cancer can be one of the most difficult diseases to treat and one of the most devastating to suffer from. Often, treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy have extreme side effects that leave the patients feeling extremely weak and sick. There are thousands of different cancers and finding the best treatment for each individual form can be overwhelming. To find an overarching cure for cancer is a steep order. However, certain forms of cancer, such as testicular cancer have a 98% treatment rate. Other cancers may go into remission for a time only to return stronger than ever years later. There are also those forms of cancer that rapidly progress and are incredibly resistant to treatment. While treatments have advanced a great deal in the past decade, there is still a long way to go before we find a cure for cancer. In recent years, alternative and natural treatments have become more popular to help in the treatment of cancer. One of the most promising amongst these treatments is Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) an extract of cannabis that has shown promise in treating certain forms of cancer. Due to a number of factors, including the legality of cannabis, cannabis-based treatments still need to undergo clinical testing and much of the evidence supporting their effectiveness is based on testimonials from those who have used RSO. To date, RSO is rarely if ever prescribed by doctors and more traditional treatments still dominate the field of cancer medicine.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the most common forms of cancer treatment are as follows.
- Surgery – This treatment involves the removal of cancer cells via surgery. Different forms of surgery exist for treating different forms of cancer. For example, with breast cancer, the doctor may recommend removing the entire breast where the tumor is present. Many people are not comfortable with this option and choose to take other measures to treat breast cancer. Similarly, with testicular cancer surgeons often remove the cancers testicle. Those with skin cancer may be treated with cryosurgery, which freezes off cancer spots on the skin. Another form of surgery is Laser surgery, where powerful beams of light are precisely targeted to hit and destroy tumors. Photodynamic Therapy is another form of a laser surgery where drugs are taken that react to light and then lasers are shot into specific areas of the body where these drugs are activated and kill nearby cancer cells.
- Radiation Therapy – Radiation Therapy is a treatment that uses high levels of radiation to shrink or kill cancer cells. Most often it is used in combination with other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. Often called radiotherapy, Radiation Therapy is most often used before, after, or during surgery. This form of therapy can produce severe side effects and there is a limit to how much radiation your body can handle. Side effects include fatigue, hair loss, nausea, and vomiting, among others depending on what part of your body is being treated. The radiation effects not only the cancer cells but also the healthy cells, so radiotherapy is given in stages to allow healthy cells to recover.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is a form of treatment that involves the use of drugs to fight cancer cells. In some cases, chemotherapy can be used as a cure for cancer, in others, it is used to slow the growth of cancer cells and shrink tumors. Like Radiation Therapy, Chemotherapy is also used in tandem with other treatments. Side effects of chemotherapy are also similar to Radiotherapy. Chemotherapy attacks both fast-growing cancer cells and normal fast-growing cells. So, people often experience hair loss, mouth sores, intestinal problems, and fatigue. Hopefully, these symptoms go away once chemotherapy is finished. Chemotherapy is given in pill form, intravenously, and through different injections depending on what type of cancer you have.
- Immunotherapy – This form of treatment works to help your immune system fight cancer. Immunotherapy is known as a biological therapy because it uses living organisms to boost your immune system and fight off the cancer cells. Immunotherapy can also make your immune system better at identifying cancer cells and targeting them. There are many forms of immunotherapy, one of the most common is adoptive cell transfer where doctors extract T cells from a tumor and then grow them in a lab and reintroduce them into your body. T cells are white blood cells that are naturally able to fight cancer, so taking T cells from a tumor and reproducing them gives you more of the most effective naturally occurring cells for fighting cancer. Immunotherapy is a newer treatment and not as common as surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. Clinical trials are being conducted to study how immunotherapies work.
- Targeted Therapy – Another newer treatment option, Targeted Therapy attempts to stop cancer cells from growing, dividing, and spreading by specifically targeting the cancerous cells. Small-molecule drugs are used to enter cancer cells and create targets inside the cell and monoclonal antibodies attach themselves to specific targets on the outside of cancer cells. When these medicines interact with cancer cells the hope is that they will disrupt the proteins that proliferate cancerous cells. Targeted therapy works by helping the immune system find and fight cancer cells, stop them from growing, stop tumors from creating new blood vessels that allow them to grow, cause cancer cells to die, and keep cancer cells from processing the hormones they need to grow. Targeted Therapy is often used in combination with other forms of treatment and cancer cells do have the ability to become resistant to Targeted Treatment.
- Hormone Therapy – Hormone Therapy is used on certain types of cancer, such as prostate and breast cancer that need certain hormones to grow. It is used to both treat and ease the symptoms of cancer. There are two types of Hormone Therapy, treatments that stop the body from producing certain hormones and those that disrupt the interaction between hormones and the body. As with many of the other treatments on this list, Hormone Therapy is often most effective when used with other treatments. It can make tumors smaller in order for surgery to be more effective, it can also be used to lower the chance of cancer cells returning after other therapies have been performed, and it can eliminate cancer cells that have spread.
- Stem Cell Transplant – Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can destroy many of the stem cells in your body. Stem cells are used to create different kinds of blood cells throughout your body. The most common blood cells are white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. White blood cells are essential because they help your immune system fight off infection, red blood cells are used by your body to transport oxygen through your blood, and platelets are used by your body to clot blood. If your body is having trouble producing these blood cells the chance of you getting sick is much higher. While stem cell transplants are primarily used to help you recover from other treatments, there is evidence that they may work to directly treat certain forms of leukemia and lymphoma. This is another treatment that hasn’t been going on for that long so many clinical trials are still underway.
- Precision Medicine – Precision Medicine uses a person’s genetic make-up as a basis for the type of cancer treatment they receive. Recent scientific and technological advances have greatly advanced this field. It is common for everyone to diagnosed with cancer to be treated the same way based on the stage and type. Precision Medicine however tailor’s individual treatments for each patient based on their genetic make-up, it is also known as personalized medicine. Everyone reacts to treatments differently and the hope with precision medicine is to target the differences in people’s cancer to find the most effective treatments possible.
In addition to these treatments, cannabis-based treatments have shown promise in treating cancer. Rick Simpson Oil is an extract of cannabis that is created by soaking the cannabis in alcohol and then evaporating the alcohol from the plant material. What is left over is a sticky substance that has been shown to be effective at shrinking tumors. Part of the reason this works is that cannabis is filled with compounds known as cannabinoids, the most common of which are THC and CBD. These compounds interact with a system in our bodies known as the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system has been shown to play a key role in regulating how our immune systems function and promoting homeostasis. Homeostasis is when our immune system is balanced and cells are grown in a healthy manner. Clinical research is still needed to determine exactly how cannabis affects this system, but much like immunotherapy, RSO is thought to help the immune system to naturally fight off cancer cells. RSO has been shown to be especially effective in treating skin cancer and brain tumors. A good friend of mine’s brother was given a few weeks to live, but through the use of various treatments in conjunction with RSO has made it over a year and has seen a reduction in his tumor size. While we do not yet have a cure for cancer, new advances in the treatment and management of cancer are constantly being made, giving people more time to live and a better quality of life. We can only hope that someday a cure for cancer will be found. Cannabis seems to hold a great deal of potential in this field and hopefully, through ongoing research a cure will someday be found.