According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is expected to kill around 50,630 people in the year 2018. That is no small death toll. However, with colon screenings becoming more common cancers can often be found earlier, which is preventing more deaths in those who develop the disease. Treatments have also come a long way, and now there are more than 1 million survivors of colon cancer in the United States alone. This is good news for the future of colon cancer treatments.
But what about the more than 50,000 people who will lose their lives to this invasive disease? What could prevent more people from dying of bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer or colon cancer is cancer of the large intestines. This cancer can first begin as tiny, non-cancerous polyps called adenomatous polyps. After a while, these cells could turn cancerous. You may not ever know that you have polyps as they are small and very few symptoms typically occur. This is why regular colon screenings are so important for preventing colon cancer. These polyps can be removed before they develop into anything cancerous.
There are a few risks when considering your chances of developing colon cancer.
Genetics: Gene mutations that are passed down through families increase the risk of colon cancer. This doesn’t mean that you will absolutely develop the disease if your father had it, but your chances go up a considerable amount. There are two common forms of inherited colon cancer syndromes: Hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). HNPCC increase your risk of not only colon cancer but other cancers as well.
Those with HNPCC often develop cancer before the age of 50. FAP is very rare but involves thousands of polyps in the lining of the colon and rectum. If FAP is left untreated the risk of developing colon cancer increases considerably, which could develop before the age of 40. If you are concerned about a hereditary form of colon cancer, tests can be performed to determine whether or not you have any hereditary colon cancer syndromes.
Diet: The Western diet isn’t exactly known for being the healthiest. When considering the high fat and low fiber menus of most American cuisines, it’s no wonder that colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States. It’s still not completely clear why this type of diet may contribute to colon cancer, but research is being actively done to study whether this diet could cause inflammation in the colon that in return causes cancer.
Other risk factors for colon cancer include:
Preventing colon cancer relies heavily on detecting it in the beginning stages. Regular screenings are recommended for those who are 50 and older. However, if you are at an increased risk of having colon having, your doctor may recommend screenings start earlier or be more frequent. These screenings are called colonoscopies. This procedure involves a flexible tube with a camera attached that views your colon and rectum. If your doctor finds any polyps during a colonoscopy then certain surgical tools can be put through the tube to take a biopsy of the suspicious area. Non-cancerous polyps can also be removed during the procedure to prevent them from turning into cancer.
Treatment for colon cancer includes but is not limited to:
Surgery: Surgery could be as minimal as simply removing polyps during a colonoscopy. However, if the polyps are large, or cannot be removed during a colonoscopy, then laparoscopic surgery may be needed. These surgeries are done by a surgeon who removes the polyps through several tiny incisions in your abdomen. The surgeon may also take biopsies of the surrounding lymph nodes in that area as well. If cancer has become advanced, it may be necessary to remove the piece of the colon that is cancerous. Once this is complete then the surgeon will reconnect the healthy portions of your bowel so that they can function properly again. When reconnecting is not possible, an ostomy will be needed. This is when an opening in your abdomen is made to connect your bowel to a bag where stool will be eliminated. Many times this bag is only temporary while your bowels heal, however with some patients this may be permanent.
Chemotherapy: This procedure uses different anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. This is typically done after surgery is performed. Other times it may be administered before surgery to shrink cancer. This treatment could also be given if cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is done by using intense amounts of energy (or radiation), such as in x-rays, to kill cancer cells. This is done to shrink cancer and is often used along with chemotherapy.
Colon cancer can be aggressive and catching it early is key to survival. If cancer is detected then there are several options for treatment available. However, in too many cases these treatments prove to be ineffective and can make your quality of life plummet. For this reason, some have turned to an alternative treatment.
Cannabis has shown promise in treating colon cancers. Some people are claiming that cannabis has saved their lives.
Mark Chavarria, a Hollywood stuntman, is one of these people. After a painful round of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, he was convinced that he needed to try medical marijuana as well. He began taking cannabis in December 2013 and when June 2014 came around he felt as if his cancer was gone. At his next checkup, it was confirmed that his cancer has indeed disappeared. Chavarria says:
What I believe happens with the oil is it makes like a shellac on the tumors, and it doesn’t let it grow; doesn’t let it breathe; doesn’t let it eat… nothing. I think it was slowly, but surely, peeling away at the tumors like an onion.
Chavarria isn’t the only one who has claimed to be healed with cannabis. Lindsey, a woman from Cape Town, South Africa, wrote a blog account of her story about how cannabis treated her colon cancer.
She writes in her blog post about how she went into surgery to initially remove an ovarian cyst. Surgeons then discovered that she also had stage 3 colon cancer. She almost immediately started a painful round of chemo. During this time some friends brought her marijuana to alleviate her pain. She felt a great deal of relief after smoking the weed.
It made things so much better, not only could I enjoy food again, I slept better, and generally felt a sense of well-being.
But the marijuana would prove to be more than just comforting. After her post-chemo check-up, spots in her liver, kidney, and gallbladder were discovered. These spots were determined to be caused by the chemotherapy. At this point, she felt like the bad outweighs the good with chemo and stopped the treatments.
However, she kept using cannabis. Over the course of 46 days, she took a total of 18 grams of cannabis oil. When she went back to her oncologist to schedule her “reversal” operation she went through several tests and scans. Later that day she was told that she, in fact, had no signs of cancer in her body whatsoever.
These stories, though not clinical trials themselves, come with a little bit of research to help validate them.
One study that was published in the Journal for Molecular Medicine, showed that cannabis extracts that contained high amounts of CBD (the non-psychotropic cannabinoid in cannabis) may help to prevent colon cancer from spreading in mice. It was shown that this high CBD cannabis or “botanical drug substance” can halt the growth of tumors without harming healthy cells.
The authors of the study concluded that:
Although cannabidiol has been shown to kill glioma cells, to inhibit cancer cell invasion and to reduce the growth of breast carcinoma and lung metastases in rodents, its effect on colon carcinogenesis has not been evaluated to date. This is an important omission since colon cancer affects millions of individuals in Western countries. In the present study, we have shown that cannabidiol exerts (1) protective effects in an experimental model of colon cancer and (2) antiproliferative actions in colorectal carcinoma cells.
This could be amazing news for those who are suffering from colon cancer and finding the mainstream treatment to be too painful. This could also be a safer alternative as no healthy cells are damaged with the use of cannabis. The American Cancer Society admits that the common cancer treatments themselves could cause more cancer down the road. Cannabis may be able to help break this cycle and leave behind instead a healthy, cancer-free patient who suffers from no adverse side effects.
More research needs to be done for doctors to confidently prescribed a cannabis treatment for curing colon cancer. However, there is enough research to show that clinical trials on this issue are necessary.
As with any medicinal substance, please consult with a trusted physician before using medical marijuana, and also check your state’s marijuana laws.
To learn more about how cannabis can help treat colon cancer read Pot and Potty: the Complete Guide to Medical Marijuana and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).