Cannabis has long been used for medicinal as well as recreational purposes. Image source
Few topics spark as much debate on this blog and on our Facebook page than cannabis.
So we thought we’d take a look at the common questions raised about the evidence and research into cannabis, cannabinoids (the active chemicals found in the plant and elsewhere) and cancer, and address some of the wider issues that crop up in this debate.
This post is long, but can be summarised by saying that at the moment there isn’t enough reliable evidence to prove that cannabinoids – whether natural or synthetic – can effectively treat cancer in patients, although research is ongoing around the world.
There’s been another glut of fascinating stories this week, most of which focused on aspects of the NHS. Here’s our digest – follow the links for the full story:
On Monday, we announced that we’d enrolled the first patients into our Stratified Medicine Programme – which aims to help the NHS establish a world-class genetic testing service, while simultaneously generating data for research. As well as our press release, we published full details, including a map, a list of genes to be tested, and a video explaining the programme, on this blog.
Tuesday’s news was dominated by a story that showed cancer patients were living much longer than in the 1970s. But the report didn’t find improvements across the board. Some types of cancer have seen dramatic improvements, while others have barely changed – further highlighting how much more work we still have to do
As we said above, several stories this week focused on NHS cancer care. The first was an investigation by GP newspaper which found – alarmingly – that several NHS trusts aren’t prescribing cancer drugs that NICE has approved. If this turns out to be the case, it’s extremely concerning, and we’ll be keeping an eye on how this story progresses.
We posted a piece about the Government’s NHS reforms and what could mean for people with cancer – a topic that’s generating a lot of media interest at the moment.
Researchers at our Beatson Institute in Glasgow, leading an international team of scientists, made an intriguing discovery about how melanoma spreads
On Friday, research by the Royal College of GPs looked at how long people had to wait before seeing a cancer specialist. Overall, they found that nearly three quarters of patients only saw a GP once or twice before being referred.
Also on Friday, the Department of Health announced it had decided to switch the HPV vaccine it uses to one that protects against virus strains that cause both genital warts and cervical cancer (the previous vaccine only protected against the strains that cause cancer). Here’s their press release.
We discussed how we were concerns about media reports of people fundraising for an unproven US cancer clinic.
And finally, results of a decade-long French trial showed that some younger patients with an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, known as ‘diffuse B-cell’ lymphoma, might benefit from more intensive chemotherapy than normal. The big caveat here is that the side effects are consequently more severe, so doctors will need to carefully select who will benefit.
Cancer research is constantly moving forward – we’ve already spotted several interesting stories for the week ahead, so keep your eyes peeled, and see you next week.
“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all” Emily Dickinson
Note: we have edited this blog post to correct factual errors, and made changes to some of the language at the request of the family of a patient being treated at the Burzynski clinic. For transparency, these changes have been tracked.
We’ve recently seen an increasing number of stories in the media – such as this heartfelt piece in the Observer – describing how desperate cancer patients and their families are raising tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds to go for treatment at the Burzynski Clinic in Texas, USA.
Many of us working here at Cancer Research UK have lost loved ones to this terrible disease (or, indeed, been through it themselves) and it’s what fuels our passion for the work that we do. So we have the very deepest sympathy with these families and understand the need for hope, however faint, in their darkest days.
Across the country, kind-hearted people – from local communities to big name celebrities – are understandably moved to raise money for these patients. But it is also important for them to know that the available scientific evidence does not support the clinic’s claims that their treatment (known as antineoplaston therapy) is effective against cancer. At the moment, Burzynski’s antineoplaston treatment has to be regarded as experimental and unproven.(Edited 3/12/11 KA)
There is nothing we want to see more than effective treatments for cancer, and to save families from going through the pain of losing a loved one to cancer. Some families may feel that a chance of a cure – however slim – is worth it, on the understanding that there are no guarantees. But we cannot stand silent while people are lured by promises based on an unproven therapy. (Edited 30/11/11 KA; Edited 5/12/11 KA) Continue reading →
At Cancer Research UK, we’re often asked about alleged “miracle cures” for cancer, usually based on claims made on the internet. There’s an impressive list of these collected on the Quackwatch website (here and here), ranging from the slightly wacky to the downright dangerous.
Not only is this simply not true – just because something doesn’t actually work, it doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy against it – it’s harmful to cancer patients. And, as we’ve found out whilst digging through our archives, it’s also not a new idea.