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Cannabis and Prostate Cancer: Facts You Need to Know

Prostate Cancer,Men's Health,Cannabis,DocMJ

Medical exams can be intimidating and feel awkward sometimes.  That is true for men who know that a prostate exam is important but feel uncomfortable about getting screened regularly.  That emotional discomfort may be enough to avoid having a prostate exam until the patient suspects a problem or symptoms occur. 

When it comes to cancer, prevention, and early detection are very important.  The sooner your physician identifies a potential risk, the better.  And some interesting new studies suggest that doctor-supervised medical cannabis may play a role in helping patients with prostate cancer. 

Metastatic Prostate Cancer Rates Are Rising in the United States

In November 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) raised another red flag about metastatic prostate cancer (mPC) diagnoses.  From 2003 to 2017, according to the CDC’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” rates of prostate cancer increased from 4% to 8% overall, even though age-adjusted incidents went down from 155 to 105 per 100,00 men in the United States. 

The Centers for Disease Control reported 3,087,800 new diagnosed cases of prostate cancer during the ten years. Caucasian men had the lowest diagnosis rate (5%) of all cases.  But Black non-Hispanic men (aged 70-74) had the highest prostate cancer rate. Approximately 1 in 4 Black men will develop prostate cancer, compared to 1 in 8 men in other ethnic groups.

Prostate Cancer,Men's Health,Cannabis,DocMJ

Stages of Prostate Cancer and Treatment Outcomes 

As with other types of cancer, prevention and early diagnosis are key to improving the survival rate for patients.  The CDC report drew data from the US Cancer Statistics composite to determine the average stage of prostate cancer development at the time of diagnosis.

Approximately 77% of prostate cancer patients were diagnosed while their condition was localized (exclusive to the prostate area of the body). Another 11% of cases were diagnosed beyond the prostate but in the same localized region. And 5% of cases were diagnosed after cancer had become metastatic or spread to multiple areas of the body from the prostate area. 

This data reveals that early detection and frequent testing are working to diagnose men earlier.  When there are better treatment outcomes before cancer becomes metastatic throughout the body.  But what concerns researchers is that the increase in diagnoses in the past ten years reveals an increase in later-stage detection of prostate cancer.  

Prostate Cancer Relative Survival Rates 

Prostate cancer survival rates are impacted by the stage at which the cancer was diagnosed. The US Cancer Statistics composite shared survival data based on 3,104,380 men diagnosed with prostate cancer between 2001 to 2016:

  • Fewer than one-third of men would survive prostate cancer five years after diagnosis if diagnosed in the late stages.
  • Relative survival rates (RSRs) for earlier stage diagnoses (five and ten years) were 97.6% and 97.2%, respectively. 
  • Ten-year RSRs for men diagnosed with localized prostate cancer were 100%. The ten-year RSR for late-stage prostate cancer diagnosis was 18.5% by comparison. 

The good news is that most American men diagnosed with prostate cancer currently begin treatment when the cancer is localized.  And that provides the best chance for a full recovery.  But with the incidents of metastatic prostate cancer diagnoses rising in younger age groups, regular screening is now suggested earlier.  According to some studies, prostate cancer can and should be screened annually for all men, starting after the age of thirty-five. 

In 2012, the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued a grade D recommendation that men should be screened regularly for prostate cancer, regardless of age.  That change in health policy is credited for the increase in early diagnosis and survival rates. 

How Are You Tested for Prostate Cancer?

If you have never had a prostate test before, you may not know what to expect.  But the test to determine whether you have prostate cancer (or may be at risk) is easier than you think.  And less invasive than you might expect. 

Step One: Health History 

Prostate cancer appears to have some link to heredity and family health history. Having a brother or a father with prostate cancer doubles the risk that you may develop the condition.  However, most men diagnosed with prostate cancer have no family history.

At your annual wellness check, update your primary care provider (PCP) if a close relative has been diagnosed.  Your doctor may suggest annual screening to reduce your risks and promote early detection of prostate cancer. 

Step Two: Physical Examination

A physician can examine the prostate gland through the rectum.  During the procedure, a doctor will manually examine the prostate gland through the rectum.  Even though that sounds uncomfortable, the procedure is fast and painless.  But it is the best preliminary way to determine if there is a potential problem. An important health check since most patients with prostate cancer do not show any symptoms in the early stages.  

The Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) is made comfortable by using lubricant. And on average, the DRE takes less than five minutes for the practitioner to complete. Further testing will be scheduled if the physician detects anything abnormal (such as a hard mass, nodule, or asymmetry). Benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH is the presence of an enlarged prostate gland. 

Step Three: Antigen Testing

One of the most reliable diagnostic tests for prostate cancer for over thirty years has been an in-office blood test.  The Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test measures whether PSA levels are elevated or higher than normal. 

High levels of PSA may indicate prostate cancer or other health problems that can affect the prostate, including a non-cancerous condition called prostatitis. Men who do not have prostate cancer will show PSA levels under 4 ng/mL of blood. 

Because the PSA test is a simple blood draw, it may not require a doctor’s visit.  In some areas, prostate cancer blood screening tests can be scheduled directly with a local laboratory. And the results are then shared with your primary care provider. 

Step Four: Ultrasound Imaging

If DRE and antigen testing point to a prostate risk, the next step for patients would be to undergo ultrasound imaging. A diagnosis of prostate cancer requires imaging to determine whether the cancer is metastatic or if it has spread to nearby regions. 

Ultrasound imaging will confirm the diagnosis and allow your practitioner to assess the stage of cancer development accurately.  And provide recommendations and a treatment plan for the patient. 

Integrative Cannabis Treatment Plans for Men With Prostate Cancer

Over the past twenty years, research has revealed exciting new insights into the benefits of cannabinoids for cancer treatment. The global medical community does not have all the answers (yet) about how cannabis may help treatment and possibly prevention of certain types of cancer, but the studies are promising.

The prostate gland is part of the endocannabinoid system and has CB1 and TRPV1 receptors.  When a patient has prostate cancer, the natural endocannabinoid system is suppressed in the prostate gland. One of the diagnostic markers that could help predict the development of prostate cancer in the future. 

Several different types of cannabinoids have been shown to suppress or slow the development of tumors.  Clinical studies of mice suggest THC and WIN-55,212-2 cannabinoids may help patients with different cancers.  

Some researchers have reported that prostate cancer cells have much higher levels of cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2.  And that prostate cancer cells may be drawn to cannabinoids more strongly than other cells.  Both cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can discourage the growth of tumor blood vessels, which prostate cancer cells need to grow and spread to other areas of the body.

Another exciting discovery suggests that interactions between cannabis and prostate cancer may reduce androgen receptor activity.  Androgen is the male hormone that helps fuel the growth of prostate cancer.

Medical Cannabis and Prostate Cancer Symptoms

In most states where medical marijuana is legalized, cancer appears as one of the qualifying health conditions (QHCs).  That means patients diagnosed with cancer may be eligible for a medical card and add doctor-supervised cannabis to their treatment plan.

  • Cannabis can provide symptom relief in some cases, from both cancer symptoms and side-effects of cancer treatments, including:
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chronic pain
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Appetite loss
  • Neuropathy

If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, or have an increased risk of developing it due to family health history, talk to a physician.  Medical cannabis may help with prevention and symptom management during treatment for prostate cancer. 

Depending on the qualifying health conditions in your state, you may be eligible to apply for a medical card and add doctor-supervised cannabis to your treatment plan.  


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