Although not as prominent as a cause of death in women in the United States, cervical cancer still represents a significant health risk, not only in the U.S. but in countries around the world. Cervical cancers kill approximately 250,000 women each year in Africa alone; thousands of deaths in other countries mean that this dreaded disease has the potential to impact millions of lives. Medical researchers have investigated alternatives to traditional cervical cancer treatment, and have discovered hope for women around the globe. Emerging research now points to medical cannabis as a potentially safer means of treating cervical cancers, along with other women’s health issues.
Cervical cancer is a disease that affects the human cervix, the lower part of the uterus. There are several types of cervical cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma, which is the most common form of the disease, and the less-common adenocarcinoma. It is not entirely clear what causes cervical cancer to develop, but the medical community knows of a strong link between a sexually-transmitted pathogen called the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the disease. Common symptoms of cervical cancer include:
In the early stages of the disease, however, women may experience no symptoms; it is only after the disease progresses that symptoms appear.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have compiled statistics that show the grim toll cervical cancer has had on the U.S. population. Each year, about 13,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and the five-year survival rate is about 67%. The disease is especially impactful on women aged 35-44, although cervical cancer can appear at any time in a woman’s life.
According to the NIH, over the past four decades, advances have been made in recognizing pre-cancerous conditions through health monitoring and regular exams. Until the development of diagnostic tools like the PAP test, cervical cancer was the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. A readily-available vaccine for HPV has also helped lower cancer rates. While the number of new cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths is dropping, cervical cancer still takes the lives of about 4,000 women each year in the U.S. alone.
Cervical cancer treatment is treated much like many other cancers. Medical professionals may use a number of strategies, including radiation therapy, surgery to remove cancerous tissues, or chemotherapy to kill off cancer cells. Traditional cancer treatments – especially chemotherapy agents — can produce unpleasant side effects like:
Medical researchers have sought alternative treatments for cervical cancer and other cancers, hoping to provide beneficial treatments that improve patient outcomes while eliminating the side effects associated with chemotherapy. Several studies have been conducted into the role of cannabis as an alternative cervical cancer treatment. In one study, published in the journal Current Clinical Pharmacology, cannabis was shown to have a powerful apoptosis (cancer cell-killing) effect. In fact, some of the clinical trials of cannabis show a significant reduction in cancer cells, and in some cases even a reversal of the damage caused by the growth of cancerous tumors.
Other studies revealed that cannabis treatments, specifically with cannabis containing high levels of the natural cannabinoid known as cannabidiol or CBD, can reduce inflammation, pain, and spread of cancerous cells in the uterus. A study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine investigated the link between CBD and cervical cancer treatments. As in other studies, CBD was shown to inhibit cancer cell growth. While more research is needed, medical cannabis represents a potential breakthrough in cancer treatment, helping to improve the lives of people afflicted with this deadly disease.