Cancer is a disease characterized by abnormal cell division that creates tumors and destroys body tissues. There are over 100 types of cancer, including in the breasts, skin, lungs, colon, and prostate, in addition to lymphoma, and it can attack anywhere in the body. One of the signs of cancerous cells is their ability to spread to other parts of the body in a process called “metastasis”, where they grow very quickly and crowd out the normal cells. The different types of cancer grow and spread at different rates, and therefore respond differently to treatment. The most common methods used by doctors to treat cancer are chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, and patients often require a combination of two or more types of treatment. Some types of cancer produce malignant tumors, while others, such as leukemia, affect cells in the blood and bone marrow. The progress of the disease is classified as stages 1 to 4, which indicates how far the cancerous cells have spread from the original site, with stage 4 as the most advanced.
With most cases of cancer, scientists are unable to identify a specific single cause; only 5-10% of cases have a genetic hereditary element. It is known that excessive use of tobacco and alcohol, exposure to ionizing radiation or the sun’s rays, certain infections (such as HPV, hepatitis B and C), and environmental pollution increase the chances of developing the disease. To prevent cancer, doctors recommend maintaining a healthy weight and nutrition, regular exercise, vaccination against infectious diseases, reducing consumption of red and processed meat, and being careful about exposure to the sun.
Cancer symptoms vary widely as there is no single version of the disease. Most – 70%-90% – of patients with late-stage cancer report pain. Patients treated with chemotherapy and radiation often suffer from nausea and vomiting, and for this reason, palliative care designed to relieve these symptoms and side effects is the basis for most oncological treatment.
Many cancer patients find it difficult to manage their pain and suffering, and therefore cancer has for some time been approved by the Israeli Ministry of Health for treatment with medical cannabis, since it has very few if any serious side effects and offers great relief from symptoms.
During the period 2015-2017, Lihi Bar-Lev Shleider, head of our research department, together with Soroka Medical Center and Ben Gurion University, conducted a study that dealt with the effects of cannabis on a large population of cancer patients. The purpose was to examine epidemiological aspects, and the safety and side effects of adjunct treatment with Tikun Olam’s medical cannabis products. The scientists analyzed a database of 2,979 cancer patients in terms of the ability of cannabis to improve their symptoms and quality of life. Here are some of the exciting findings:
- General improvement was reported by 95.9%; 45 patients (3.7%) reported no change, and 4 patients (0.3%) reported a decline in their medical condition.
- Decreased use of medication: before the start of treatment, the patients took an average of 3.9 medications regularly. 6 months after starting treatment with cannabis, 35.1% of them reported a reduction in medications. Opiates, for example, were the most frequently taken family of medicines before starting treatment, used by 344 patients (33.9%). Six months later, 36.0% of them had stopped using opiates.
- Significant drop in pain intensity: before starting treatment, 52.9% of patients reported pain in the range of 8 to 10 (on a scale of 1 to 10), while only 4.6% reported this intensity after six months of treatment.
- Significant improvement in quality of life: before starting treatment, only 18.7% reported a good quality of life, while six months later, 69.5% reported good quality of life.
- 362 (30.1%) of respondents reported side effects, of which the most common were dizziness, dry mouth, more appetite, sleepiness, psychoactive effects, nausea, and weakness.
- Decreased nausea and vomiting – 91.0% reported significant relief of nausea and vomiting.
- Adjuvant treatment with cannabis for cancer patients appears to be a safe and effective way of helping patients deal with their symptoms.