Cancer is a serious disease — one that can affect multiple different parts of the body. It starts when cells begin to grow in an unusual way from the body’s normal routine. Cancerous cells grow quickly, unhealthily, and have the ability to spread to other body systems from the tissues where they begin to grow. Cancer can start anywhere in the body, and because it uses the body’s resources in an unhealthy way, it can quickly use up resources that healthy cells need in order to survive and keep the body at an equilibrium.
When cells function normally, they grow, divide, die, and new cells take their place through more cell division. Sometimes, a cell does not die when it is programmed to do so naturally (which leaves room for new, healthy cells to grow) and abnormalities on or within the body can occur. Other times, information in a cell’s DNA can cause a malfunction in the way a cell reproduces. This type of change can be caused by genetics, if the mutation is a hereditary one. A person’s genetic makeup on its own will not lead to cancer — only genes that could potentially trigger a mutation if they are expressed. Other causes of this change most often include environmental interruptions such as another medical condition (one example being the link between Human Papillomavirus and cervical cancer in women) or exposure to a cancer-causing substance (such as overexposure to UV rays and the increased risk of skin cancer, or tobacco and an increased risk of lung cancer).
Anyone who knows someone who has had cancer, or who has it themselves, knows how all-encompassing of an illness it can be — the disease is a tender subject for many people. Its causes are complex, and the subjects of cancer research and prevention are highly publicized ones. Many people have debated over the government’s involvement to restrict the use of substances that are linked to increased cancer risk because of the danger that they pose to people who may otherwise be unaware of their harmful nature. Though much research is yet to be done on cancer’s causes and treatments, a lot is already known about certain lifestyle practices that are linked to cancer prevention. It is important to understand that the disease is caused by a web of factors that are likely unique to each individual person and are therefore very difficult to predict. There are many different types of cancers, and each one is affected differently by these webs of factors that lead to its development. The fact is, most people will not know what exactly it is that causes their cancer. That being said, certain precautions given for lifestyle changes have strong correlations to a reduced cancer risk. Eating habits that include foods known to be linked to reduced cancer risks is wise, as is limiting exposure to alcohol, tobacco, radiation, and other cancer-causing substances (called carcinogens).
People often talk about cancer awareness on social media. Awareness is important. Rather than hearing the often overdone blanket statement about cancer’s prevalence, you need to understand the symptoms of cancer and be able to recognize them. Awareness does not do much good if it does not help people to understand how the disease could directly affect them or the ones they love and what they can do to either prevent it or discover its growth.
Here are some common things to check for when determining if symptoms could be cancer-related:
While many of these symptoms are often due to common, treatable conditions, it is important to watch for them so you know that there is a potential risk for cancer when you cannot find another explanation (such as appetite or sleep irregularities being caused by a common condition such as depression — if these changes are occurring without other signs of depression, you may choose to speak to a doctor about them to rule out other causes).
What should you do if you think you have symptoms of cancer? Rule number #1: Do not wait to start checking yourself for visible signs of cancer. Being aware of the signs is key in knowing what the next steps should be and if you ought to be concerned about your symptoms. Several people have saved themselves a lot of unnecessary difficulty by watching for the symptoms early-on. The sooner the better is always the first rule with cancer.
If Rule number #1 is to be aware of the signs, Rule number #2 would be to watch for them regularly. Your primary care doctor can help you learn how to do simple self-checks, similar to what they might do in a routine check-up in their office. There are resources online to help you do this as well. A self-check is different from a cancer screening, so be sure to ask your doctor about the proper screenings for your age and overall health. Some screenings can only be done by a doctor. If you think that this sounds like a hassle or costly, REMEMBER: EARLY DETECTION IS YOUR BEST DEFENSE. It is far better to go through the routine cancer screenings with your doctor than to postpone them and find that a disease could have been much more easily prevented — with less cost to you not only money-wise, but also physically and emotionally for yourself and those you love.
The next steps would be to talk to your doctor about your concerns. Get second opinions, if possible. You know what is regular and irregular for your body, and your primary care doctor or other medical professionals that you see need to know about these symptoms, even if you do not think the chances are high that you have cancer (in its early or late stages), and even if you are not experiencing any pain or fatigue with your symptoms. They are different for each type of cancer, and anything unusual ought to be given attention.
After an initial evaluation, your doctor may choose to suggest different diagnostic procedures to figure out what is causing your symptoms. They will be able to gain more information about your condition — whatever it is — following these tests. In its initial phases, these tests are usually quite routine. Blood samples often tell doctors that something is out of whack and are very simple procedures involving an evaluation of a small amount of your blood.
Other tests may involve collecting small amounts of urine, stool, or other bodily fluids. Biopsies involve collecting small amounts of fluid or body tissues so that they can be evaluated by a medical lab. If a tumor is visible, or if a mole looks suspicious, a doctor may propose removing the entire thing in order to sample and test it.
Following an evaluation, a doctor will usually tell you the next steps to pursue. If they do not think it is anything serious, but you feel that something is truly abnormal, talk to your doctor about your concerns and get a second opinion if you think it is necessary.
For more information on the symptoms of cancer, see our article: Cannabidiol and Cancer Symptoms: Improve your odds.
What are the different types of cancer that may be a risk for me or someone I know?
Cancer covers a wide range of illnesses. It is just a term to describe the way the diseased cells grow and spread. Even though cancers can manifest themselves in many forms, some of them have common causes and spread in similar ways.
The most often diagnosed cancers are:
With around 1.2 million new diagnoses each year, lung cancer is one of the most common types across the globe. In nearly every case, the cause has been linked to smoking. There are two types of lung cancer, non-small cell and small cell. Treatments vary depending on which type is diagnosed. For instance, surgery is more common in non-small cell cancer. Some genetic factors have been found to attack lung tumors, which gives hope to researchers looking into prevention methods.
Currently, it is difficult to detect lung cancer until its advanced stages, but it is an easily preventable cancer with the choice to avoid or to quit smoking.
Skin cancer can be very serious — one type, melanoma, spreads quite easily. Fortunately, it is one of the most easily detected and diagnosed because it is visible as a mole or a growth on the skin. UV radiation is widely believed by health professionals and researchers to be the main cause of this type of the disease — which accounts for one-third of all cancer diagnoses each year.
Again, early detection and prevention methods are key in this type of cancer.
This type of cancer mostly affects women and is characterized by cancer cells that grow within breast tissue. Even though it doesn’t always show up as a tumor on the breast, it can spread to other organs and cause tumors there. Surgical removal of the tumor or breast is common, along with radiation and chemotherapy.
Early detection through frequent self-exams, noticing any symptoms like nipple discharge, changes in the shape or skin of nipple or breast tissue, as well as any irregular growths or puckering is very important.
Primary care doctors and gynecologists can perform these exams and show you how to do them yourself between visits. If you think you have found something suspicious on your breast, a mammogram (often recommended for women every few years anyway) is a way to conduct a more thorough screening for beginning stages and development of cancer.
This is the most common type of cancer among women as a gender group, so do not let a self-exam replace a mammogram/doctor visit, or vice versa! Popsugar has resources that recommend doing this exam once a month: https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/How-Do-Breast-Self-Exam-43013818
Prostate cancer tends to affect men in their older years, but it is still important to know that it is a risk. This is another type of cancer that can easily spread to other parts of the body. Screening for this type of cancer is not as effective with self examinations, so it is important to talk to your doctor about risk factors for your age group and overall health.
This type of cancer is the 3rd most common cause of cancer-related deaths for men, and it is recommended that men around age 55, and no later than age 70, go to their doctors for prostate cancer screenings. Due to the risks posed by this test, called a PSA screening (looking for “prostate-specific antigens” that may be present in the blood), men should talk with their doctor about when to start these tests specific to their situation. Risks posed by a biopsy in a cancer screening can include erectile dysfunction and incontinence. Other types of exams, such as a digital rectal exam (DRE) performed by your doctor to feel your prostate and the surrounding tissue can be helpful at an earlier age before the risk for men is at its typical highest, and thus reduces your risk for complications while still being vigilant in early detection for what could be a highly debilitating and devastating illness. Talk with your doctor about your situation, but do not ignore the risk factors of this type of cancer — these include an unhealthy diet, obesity, and a lifestyle that does not include regular exercise. Other factors include genetics and age, but recognize that there are things that are in your control that can minimize your risks.
This cancer occurs in the large intestine, in the colon or the rectum. Risk factors include a previous diagnosis of another type of cancer, smoking, or a sedentary lifestyle, among other risk factors. A colonoscopy may show polyps, or small clusters of cells (like a benign tumor or growth), which may or may not be cancerous. Ones that are not cancerous may still progress to cancerous growths if cancer is present. The age group most commonly affected by this type of cancer is around 50 years old, and the risk rises in the years following. The recommended screening is a colonoscopy, during which you would be given a mild sedative while a doctor uses a small camera to investigate your colon to watch for (and possibly remove) any polyps. The risk of colon cancer increases if a person has had polyps and if they are obese, diabetic, smoke, consume alcohol, or have unhealthy eating habits.
There are different treatment methods for these types of cancers. Many of these illnesses have well-established treatment methods to combat them and their spread. These, as stated previously, often include surgeries or radiation or chemotherapy treatments. Because cancer cells are all non-normal cells that grow and divide in an atypical way, the treatment methods often target the same malfunction methods that these cells use in order to survive and take over some tissues on or in the body.
Though many of these cancers have similar treatment methods, some people have reported symptom relief by using cannabidiol, or CBD, oil, derived from marijuana, or Cannabis sativa., and recent research following legal medical marijuana laws has explored using the hemp plant and its various parts and chemicals as a possible cancer treatment to relieve the unpleasant experiences people often have with chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
What do I need to know about a possible cure for cancer?
The increased web presence of cannabis dispensaries with the rise of legal medical marijuana is not there without reason — several people have claimed that it has reduced their symptoms, and some recent studies have even shown that it can reduce tumors. The possibilities of marijuana as a cure for cancer seem more promising than ever previously anticipated in our society (the negative perspective many of us have had of it as an illegal drug for so long has kept a lot of people from considering its uses rather than its abuses alone). When used in different ways (except by smoking or inhaling the smoke, which can be extremely harmful to the lungs), whether as a topical cream, an oil, or digested as a chewable, marijuana can have different effects on several different conditions including cancer. Currently, the bulk of research on the varieties of hemp plant and cancer shows CBD oil has been effective in reducing side effects of chemotherapy such as nausea and decreased appetite.
Chemotherapy is a treatment that targets cells during their growth cycle. The chemotherapy medicines often make it so that the cancer cells are not given a chance to split and multiply before they die, although different chemo drugs can work at different phases of the cells’ lives. Some of the chemo drugs work by disrupting cell DNA (which can actually increase a person’s risk of getting bone marrow leukemia years after the treatment — these drugs are called alkylating agents). Other chemotherapies work by changing DNA, or damaging or replacing DNA and RNA so that the cells cannot grow and multiply normally. Others can interfere with DNA copying mechanisms (but, these also carry a risk of developing leukemia later). Some types of chemotherapy can even work with the immune system to make it better at recognizing and attacking the malignant cancer cells!
Included in the regular types of chemotherapy are steroid or hormone treatments. Depending on the type of cancer, hormone therapy can reduce the growth of cancer cells. Hormone treatments in particular can affect some of the sex-specific cancers by blocking the reproductive tissue cells from receiving the hormones that they need in order to function as normal. Some of these treatments, including the steroid treatments, are often used in tandem with other chemotherapies in order to reduce side effects or risk of an allergic reaction.
One famous story about people getting rid of their cancers with cannabis is that of Rick Simpson — the man who had gone to his doctor and discovered basal cell carcinoma, but declined treatment in favor of bandaging his skin spots with concentrated cannabis oil of his own. After hearing a variety of anecdotes about people using cannabis to treat their cancers, and reading about a study in which THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBN (cannabinol), and CBD (cannabidiol) in high concentration had slowed lung cancer growth, Simpson believed he had enough evidence to give it a shot. His concentrated oil, which has higher amounts of THC compared to typical CBD oil or hemp oil (which sometimes have none at all), has been called Rick Simpson Oil, or RSO.
Bottom line: CBD has been shown to reduce nausea and increase appetite in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. As a possible cure for cancer, scientists know that Cannabis compounds, given in targeted ways, have slowed tumor growth in mice and in some humans.
To read more about these oils and their differences as potential treatment options for cancer or for symptom relief, read our article, Understanding the differences between CBD oil and RSO.
A lot more research is being done now than in previous years to explore CBD oil as a cancer treatment. Most of the randomized, placebo-controlled studies on humans with cancer have been focused on decreasing pain or side effects from traditional medical treatment. Other studies on animals have shown that cannabis compounds have had a direct effect on tumor cell growth. Studies on human tumors are few and far between, but the results have been promising so far and more information is forthcoming as patients continue to be monitored and new studies begin to roll out in the coming years.
The rise of marijuana studies such as these in other countries with more lenient legislation on its procurement is promising. Notable countries that have taken steps forward in research include Spain, Israel, and some states in the United States.
In the United States, there is an interesting interaction between state and federal medical marijuana laws. On the federal level, marijuana is officially a Schedule I drug, which means that it is widely held to not have a medical use. This classification has some validity, as the current research does not show any reliable ways to take marijuana (in dosage amount or form) in order to adequately treat an illness in a manner that can be prescribed confidently (and consistently) by doctors. Select states have authorized its use by doctor referral (as opposed to a prescription), taking into account the studies that have shown CBD as a potential cure or relief for several diseases, as well as the anecdotal cases that have claimed its benefits.
Currently, the FDA has allowed its referral, though not its prescription, under a clause often referred to as “compassionate use” when other FDA-regulated forms of treatment are not working or could be too risky. Even with this clause, legal medical marijuana in one state may not be approved for a patient if they travel to another state that does not allow its referral for a medical condition.
There are some risks when deciding to try medicinal marijuana with or without a doctor referral. For instance, some cases have shown that too high of a dose can cause or increase seizures in some patients. What’s right for someone else may not be what’s right for you.
If you are considering using CBD as a cancer treatment, for symptom relief, or are interested in what people are saying about it, see our article: What is the proper dosage to use CBD as a cancer treatment?.
A Final Word on CBD for Cancer
Above all, be extremely careful when looking into CBD as a treatment option. The FDA recently stated in November:
We recognize that there’s interest in developing therapies from marijuana and its components, but the safest way for this to occur is through the drug approval process – not through unsubstantiated claims made on a website. We support sound, scientifically-based research using components derived from marijuana, and we’ll continue to work with product developers who are interested in bringing safe, effective, and quality products to market.”
We simply don’t know enough about marijuana to know the scope of its risks, even if we have been able to see results that are hopeful for cures. Understanding both sides of the coin will come from further study and time. Stay abreast of current research, and go to reliable, scientific sources when looking into cannabis’s potential.