The idea that Cannabis is an effective treatment for cancer has been around for years, and supporters of this idea try to promote it everywhere they can – Also on websites that are meant to be supportive for cancer patients.
Often the supporters present links to youtube videos/websites giving what they claim is scientific evidence. The scientific evidence presented is not in the form of clinical studies on cancer patients. The evidence comes from papers on experiments conducted on cancer cell lines cultured in dishes or implanted in mice.
In a previous post we looked into why we can’t conclude directly from such studies to effects in cancer patients. For more about the science involved with Cannabis and cancer we recommend this regularly updated article on Cancer Research UK.
Sometimes links are given to articles reporting anecdotes about people who against all odds were cured of cancer thanks to Cannabis. In this post we are taking a closer look at one of the recent anecdotes that is making its rounds on the internet. It is instructive because it demonstrates how easy it is to be misled.
So what are we told in the article?
Not many details are given. But the main points are:
- Bowel cancer was diagnosed in 2012
- It was treated with surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy
- February 2014 he was told that he had a maximum of 18 months to live
- He tried Cannabis oil as a last resort.
- He was pronounced cured January 2015
There is no doubt that the author of the article wants to persuade the readers, that Cannabis in this case performed nothing short of a miracle.
If it sounds to good to be true – It is
It turns out that there are several versions of this anecdote on the internet. The article we are looking at is based on an article in the Daily Mail. There is also an article, where the author actually spoke to the patient. There is even a youtube video, where he tells his own story. Using all these different sources, a completely different picture emerges:
- He was diagnosed with rectal cancer, which was treated by a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy followed by surgery.
- A couple of months later, a recurrence to his scrotum was surgically removed.
- He then had chemotherapy (no information on what type) for 12 weeks.
- At the end of chemotherapy no more cancer was detectable.
- A recurrence to 2 lymph nodes in the groin appeared shortly after.
- Surgical removal was not possible.
It is the events following this recurrence that is subject to critically divergent stories. In the article that caught our attention it says that he was “given a max of 18 months to live”. In the article where the author actually interviewed the patient it says he “he was terminal, with an estimated period of between 18 months and 5 years to live”.
As you might have already figured out, he was not given an exact estimate. In fact it is not possible to reliably predict remaining life span for an individual patient in a situation like this. And patients are not declared terminal until expected remaining life time is 6 months. But it was certainly serious that the cancer had recurred.
The doctors didn’t give up on him. He started having chemotherapy again to see how things would develop. A scan during the course of chemotherapy showed, that the metastatic lymph nodes were beginning to shrink. Around this time he started to drop chemotherapy sessions, and supplemented with Cannabis oil. A subsequent scan revealed that the lymph nodes had shrunk enough to make it possible to surgically remove them. And surgically removed they were.
One of the articles mention that a scan showed a nodule in one of his lungs. It was not present in a subsequent PET-scan. Again the article suggests, that this was a metastasis which was destroyed by Cannabis. But this is not necessarily the case. In fact a PET-scan is often used to determine if a nodule is cancerous or not. The negative PET-scan support that the nodule was a benign lesion.
So – What can we conclude?
- The story is about a young man with an aggressive cancer with metastasis to non-vital locations.
- Conventional treatments were effective.
- Everything that happened is explainable without involving Cannabis.
- The latest recurrence was finally removed by a surgeon – Not Cannabis.
- There is no way of knowing if he will ever experience a recurrence. But the longer time that passes, the lower the risk.
- He has not passed the 5-year mark yet.