Using Cannabis for Cervical Cancer: What the Current Research Says
Potentially Useful Cannabis Compounds for Cervical Cancer
Medical cannabis may increase the efficacy of chemotherapy and may help treat side effects associated with cervical cancer and its treatment including:
- Chronic pain.
- Appetite loss.
It’s also an excellent alternative to opioids for mid-to-long-term pain control.
- Patients may require extremely high doses of cannabinoids to get the effects.
- Most evidence is lab results on cell lines and questionnaires with a low number of participants, so more evidence is needed.
- Little knowledge on which specific cannabinoids will be useful, and at what dosage.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cancer is a condition where cells grow uncontrollably in a specific part of the body. Cancers can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Cervical cancer is cancer that’s found anywhere in the cervix, the opening between the vagina and the womb (uterus). The current five-year survival rate for cervical cancer in the US is 66.3 percent .
Nearly all cervical cancers (approx 90 percent) are caused by an infection from certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) . About 14,480 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the US annually, with 4,290 women dying from cervical cancer every year. Globally, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer . In low-income countries, it is one of the most common causes of cancer death.
Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- Vaginal bleeding.
- Unusual vaginal discharge.
- Pelvic pain.
- Pain during (and possibly bleeding after) sexual intercourse.
Current Cervical Cancer Treatments
Cervical cancer is treated by a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and sometimes surgery. Pap tests are used to detect potentially precancerous and cancerous processes in the cervix or colon, allowing for earlier treatment.
Why Medical Cannabis Could Be Useful for Cervical Cancer
Studies show that medical cannabis could be useful in the treatment of cervical cancer. One study shows that, out of 31 women with cervical cancer, 83% reported that medical cannabis provided relief for their cancer or treatment-related symptoms. Medical cannabis helped with the following:
- Lowering opioid use (63 percent).
- Decreased appetite (41 percent).
- Insomnia (41 percent).
- Neuropathy (nerve pain 41 percent).
- Anxiety (35 percent).
- Nausea (29 percent).
- Joint pain (29 percent).
- Bone pain (29 percent).
- Abdominal pain (25 percent).
- Depression (19 percent).
Lab studies using cell lines suggest that cannabidiol (CBD) in particular may be helpful for cervical cancer treatment.
A systematic review of medical cannabis for gynecological pain in general (including cancer, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, pelvic pain, and many more), published in 2022 shows that doses of up to 70 mg THC and 2000 mg CBD per week helped relieve pain in between 61% to 95.5% of the women studied.
There have been concerns over cannabis usage, its immunomodulatory effects, and a positive cross-sectional association with human papillomavirus (HPV)-related head and neck cancer. There is no data suggesting that cannabis increases cervical HPV burden, however.
Even though the results look positive, similar problems show up in these studies as they do with many others regarding medical cannabis. These issues include:
- Low sample sizes.
- Rarely discernment between different types of cannabis.
- Related to the above, rarely any differentiation between different doses and concentrations of particular cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.
- Lack of randomized controlled trials (RCTs).
- Lab studies don’t always reflect real life, and particularly high doses of cannabinoids may be needed — doses exceeding that of average non-medical adult use.
In several lab studies , cannabinoids have been shown to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) of human cervical carcinoma cells. Cannabidiol (CBD) may be of particular use, but in some cases, a chemically similar version (an analog) of anandamide, methanandamide, was used. It seems that increasing anandamide concentration in the body may be of particular help.
Inhibiting COX-2 enzymes, which are common in sites of inflammation, could be key to treating cervical (and other) types of cancer . Inhibition of COX-2 enzymes may also help treat cancer pain and increase the efficacy of chemotherapy.
Cannabinoids, Terpenes & Flavonoids for Cervical Cancer
- CBD may be particularly useful for gynecological cancers.
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may inhibit endometrial cancer proliferation and migration.
- Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) may be useful as well as it may enhance anandamide’s anticancer effect.
- Flavonoids in cannabis, like kaempferol and luteolin , possess antitumor activity. like myrcene, beta-caryophyllene, humulene, limonene, and pinene have anticancer properties.
Although there is little information on dosing for cervical cancer specifically, here’s a few things that may help with respect to the evidence above:
- Choose CBD-rich product.
- Having some THCV and THC in the product could also be useful.
- Cannabis oils (tinctures), CBD-rich cultivars (“strains“) & concentrates, suppositories, and cannabinoid-infused tampons may all be suitable ingestion methods.
- Choose a product rich in terpenes and flavors.
Why Might Medical Cannabis Help Treat Cancer Generally?
Cancer is a complicated subject, as there are many different types of cancer that require different methods of treatment. Cannabis is no different in this regard, with different cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids working together to produce different effects.
This means that medical cannabis may be useful for some types of cancer, have a neutral effect, or even potentially have a negative effect. In addition, some types of cancer may require specific dosages of cannabinoids in order to be effective.
So, let’s simplify what is otherwise a very complicated area of research that has a lot of heavy science involved.
plays a role in the development of most types of cancer (and indeed disease in general).
- Different types of inflammation cause different kinds of cancer. Think of inflammation as a pathway , or a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure book . Different stressors cause cells to pick different options, leading to more different outcomes, and eventually an ending.
- Cannabinoids play a fundamental role in immunomodulation (change the body’s immune system reaction) and homeostasis (balance) in general. This means that cannabinoids can induce, amplify, attenuate or prevent different kinds of inflammation.
- Cancerous cells are like a Trojan Horse. Our bodies actually get cancer all the time. It’s just that, usually, our bodies recognize these cells as cancerous and fight them off.
- Should your body receive a particular set of stressors (e.g. another bad infection or illness, insomnia, an unhealthy diet, smoking, lack of exercise), the more corrupted, mutated, cancerous cells your body develops.
- Should the stressors be regular enough and cause regular inflammation, the more likely you are to eventually develop cancer, as the body stops recognizing a damaged and mutated cell. This allows cancerous cells to proliferate.
- Cannabinoids derived from cannabis (phytocannabinoids) can help battle cancer-induced inflammation and instruct cancerous cells to “stop” or “self-destruct” (apoptosis).
When it comes to understanding cancer of any kind, it is worth keeping the above in mind. Cancer is worth approaching as a systemic disease , where endocannabinoid system (ECS) dysfunction can cause inflammation. Keeping the ECS in balance may help treat cancer, and possibly help in preventing it as well.
It is also worth keeping in mind that not all types of cancer are responsive to cannabinoids or involve the ECS . This means that, for some types of cancer, cannabis will be ineffective or even negative . The evidence so far suggests that cervical cancer is cannabinoid-responsive. However, we recommend speaking to your oncologist and/or primary care physician before going on a medical cannabis treatment program.
Article written by
Dipak Hemraj Head of Research and Education
Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture and economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.
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CBD for Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the cells of the cervix, with the cervix being a hollow cylinder that connects the lower part of a woman’s uterus to her vagina. Most cervical cancers begin in cells on the surface of the cervix and is one of the leading causes of death in American women.
It is thought that various strains for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, are one of the key factors that play a role in the development of most cervical cancers. This is because, when some women are exposed to the HP virus, and despite the immune system trying to prevent the virus from doing harm, in some women, the virus survives for years. This often contributes to a process in which this causes some cervical cells to become cancerous, causing cervical cancer to develop.
The risk of developing cervical cancer can be reduced by having regular pap-smears, a screening test that check for cervical cancer cells. In addition, women should use condoms during sex, and can receive a vaccine, both of which that protects against HPV infection that can reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Types
Squamous cell carcinoma
Refers to cancer cells that form in the lining of your cervix and is found in up to 90% of cases.
Refers to cancer cells that form in the cells that produce mucus.
Features a combination of squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
After a diagnosis of cervical cancer, the treating physician will assign the cancer a stage. The stage classification indicates whether the cancer has spread, and if so, how far. It will also help in determining the correct treatment protocols.
Cervical cancer has four stages:
Stage 1: The cancer is small and localized. It hasn’t spread to other parts of your body.
Stage 2: The cancer is larger and may have spread outside of the uterus and cervix and/or to the lymph nodes. However, it still hasn’t reached other parts of your body.
Stage 3: The cancer has spread to the lower part of the vagina and/or to the pelvis, and may also be blocking the ureters (the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder). It hasn’t spread to other parts of your body.
Stage 4: The cancer has spread outside of the pelvis to other parts of body, and into organs like the lungs, bones, or brain.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
During the early stages of cervical cancer, there are often no symptoms present. During later stages, when the cervical cancer is more advance, the most common symptoms include:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause
- Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
- Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
- Pelvic pain
- Trouble urinating
- Swollen legs
- Kidney failure
- Bone pain
- Weight loss and lack of appetite
Cervical Cancer Medications & Treatments
The most common treatments for invasive cervical cancer are surgery and radiation therapy. Other common treatments include chemotherapy and biological therapy.
Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells and are usually provided as an outpatient treatment as a hospital, doctor’s office, or even sometimes at the patient’s home. Oncologists primarily use it for cervical cancer that has advanced locally, or has spread to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy is applied in cycles of intensive treatment that are followed by periods of recovery.
Biological therapy or immunotherapy targets certain parts of the immune cells that are either turned on or off to trigger an immune response. This blocks a protein on the cells that shrink tumors and / or slow their growth.
Targeted drug treatments focus on specific weaknesses present within cancer cells and blocking these weaknesses using targeted drug treatments that can cause cancer cells to die. It is usually combined with chemotherapy and is often an option for advanced cervical cancer.
- LEEP or cold knife conization is used if the cancer is only on the surface of your cervix to remove or destroy the cancerous cells.
- Cone biopsy involves cutting away a cone-shaped piece of cervical tissue while leaving the rest of the cervix intact. This is usually required if the tumor is small, and / or the patient is considering becoming pregnant in the future.
- Trachelectomy is surgery to remove the cervix and is usually and is usually recommended for early stage cervical cancer. This is when the cervix along with some surrounding tissues is removed, and the uterus remains intact. As with cone biopsies, this allows for the possibility of becoming pregnant in the future.
- Hysterectomy is surgery in which the cervix, the uterus and sometimes part of the vagina and nearby lymph nodes are removed. A radical hysterectomy is advised in most early stage cervical cancers to prevent recurrence and if the patient does not want to become pregnant in the future.
- External radiation comes from a large machine that aims a beam of radiation at the pelvis, with treatments lasting only a few minutes. Treatments are usually given 5 days a week for 5 to 6 weeks, sometimes ending with an extra dose of radiation called a “boost.”
- Internal radiation (also called implant radiation or brachytherapy) comes from a capsule containing radioactive material, which your doctor places into the cervix. The implant radiates cancer-killing rays close to the tumor while sparing most of the healthy tissue around it.
CBD and Cervical Cancer
Research & Scientific Evidence for using CBD during cervical cancer treatment
The clinical evidence for Cannabidiol (CBD) as a viable treatment option for Cervical Cancer is promising.
Cannabidiol Inhibits Cancer Cell Invasion Via Upregulation Of Tissue Inhibitor Of Matrix Metalloproteinases-1
In a 2008 study published in the journal of Biochemical Pharmacology, researchers investigated the potential role of tissue inhibitors (TIMPs) thought to be involved in the degradation of the matrix components of the microenvironmental spaces surrounding tumors that contribute to tumor cell metastasis and angiogenesis.
Using human cervical cancer and lung cancer cells, the study focussed on the potential role of TIMP up regulation in the anti-invasive action of CBD along with the possible involvement of cannabinoid receptors (CBRs), transient receptor potential vanilliod 1 (TRPV1) channels, mitogen-activated protein kinases (MPAKs) activation as well as cellular invasion of CBD in this process.
The study showed that CBD decrease cancer tumor cell invasiveness and identified a CBR and TRPV1 triggered expression of TIMPs as an important mediator of this process. They concluded that CBD provide a novel mechanism for inhibiting cancer cell invasion, making it a therapeutic option for the treatment of cancers like cervical cancer.
Inhibition of cervical cancer cell proliferation by cannabidiol
Similar to the above study, researchers from Kent State University’s Department of Biological Sciences investigated the anti-proliferative effect of CBD on the cervical cancer cell lines. They presented their research findings in 2016 at the 9th Joint Meeting of GA, ASP, AFERP, PSE, SIF & JSP in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Their results showed that CBD successfully inhibited the proliferation of cervical cancer cells while also inducing apoptosis (cell death) of nearly all cervical cancer cells within 24 hours of CBD exposure. In addition, within a few hours of treatment, the cells also exhibited features of paraptosis, an alternative form of cell death that scientist consider as an alternative death pathway, especially in apoptosis resistant cancer cells.
They concluded that the results of their study suggest that CBD exerts its anti-proliferative effect via multiple mechanisms and show potential as an effective treatment for cervical cancer.
Cannabidiol rather than Cannabis sativa extracts inhibit cell growth and induce apoptosis in cervical cancer cells
Finally, in another study from 2016 published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers compared the anti-proliferative effects of crude whole-plant extract of Cannabis sativa with CBD as a reference standard on different cervical cancer cell lines to asses the efficacy of each.
The results indicated that both the crude Cannabis sativa extract and CBD could reduce cancer cell viability and halt cell proliferation in three different cervical cancer cell lines. However, CBD also induced apoptosis which plays a motor role in the convolution of nuclear and cellular outlines, nuclear fragmentation, and cancer cell shrinkage.
They concluded that, although more research is needed, their data suggests that CBD, rather than crude Cannabis sativa extracts, prevent cell growth and induce cell death in cervical cancer cell lines. This makes CBD a novel potential cervical cancer therapy.
Anecdotal Evidence on using CBD for cervical cancer
Most anecdotal evidence relating to cannabinoids for treating cervical cancer revolves around cannabis as opposed to CBD. For instance, this woman from New Zealand claimed that cannabis oil cured her cancer, while this woman used THC and CBD to help battle the side effects she was experiencing with chemo.
CBD as a Complementary Treatment for cervical cancer
Most available evidence shows that CBD may complement cancer treatment, and that CBD may help people with cervical cancer by helping reduce pain and inflammation. In addition, many people suffering from cervical cancer also report having other side effects from chemotherapy treatment, including sleep problems, feelings of anxiety and depression.
In one large case series study investigating the effects of CBD on anxiety and sleep, the results show CBD helps improve sleep and/or anxiety in clinical populations. Similarly, CBD can further support cervical cancer patients by reducing stress, anxiety, depression while also helping to promote REM sleep that is thought to help improve overall mood.
Scientific and anecdotal evidence both suggest that CBD can support cervical cancer patients, especially by helping to reduce chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain, inflammation, nausea and vomiting. If you or a loved one are suffering from cervical cancer and want to try CBD, talk to your medical practitioner first. He or she can help put together a plan that includes CBD along with other treatment options to help you deal with your symptoms safely and effectively.
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