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Hope for cancer is often without scientific evidence
It is reported time and again that new knowledge has been gained on substances that are supposed to help against cancer. In many cases, these substances can be found in natural foods such as broccoli or cannabis. However, sufficient scientific evidence is often missing for the supposed miracle cure.
Recently, researchers from the United States reported that they discovered a broccoli ingredient for cancer. And other scientists caused an international sensation a few days ago, when they found in a study that cannabis could be the key to treating pancreatic cancer. For many affected people, such messages are a glimmer of hope. Perhaps the breakthrough in the fight against cancer has finally been achieved and the cure within reach - that is the understandable idea. But what is really there about such reports about supposed hope for cancer?
Looking for effective therapies with as few side effects as possible
"I heard there is something new.": This is how many inquiries begin with the cancer information service of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ). You can find such news especially on the Internet. Many cancer patients and their relatives intensively search the media and the network in search of a new, effective therapy with as few side effects as possible.
“As understandable as that is, often we unfortunately have to disappoint people. Because for many supposed miracle drugs, there are still no clinical studies that scientifically prove their effectiveness and safety, ”says Dr. Susanne Weg-Remers, head of the cancer information service at the German Cancer Research Center in a message.
Reports with lurid headings such as "broccoli kills cancer cells" or "cannabis cures cancer" are usually the very first indications of a possible medical benefit against cancer, which come from animal or cell culture experiments or very early stages in clinical trials Development. Effectiveness, safety, tolerance and many other relevant questions have not yet been researched and examined. The DKFZ cancer information service uses three examples to explain the problem:
As the cancer information service explains, the secondary plant substance sulforaphane is contained in high concentration, especially in broccoli. It is often advertised on the Internet as a promising active ingredient against cancer and other diseases - including numerous sources of supply. But what's up?
According to the experts, the results of some epidemiological studies indicate that the mustard oil sulforaphane or the consumption of vegetables containing sulforaphane could be useful for the prevention of cancer. But results for the treatment of cancer are practically only available from cell culture or animal experiments. The very first clinical studies on the treatment of prostate cancer patients showed only limited evidence of an anti-cancer effect.
Further studies in people with cancer precursors and in the treatment of cancer patients have just started. Sulforaphane has so far not been recommended in the guidelines or by specialist societies for cancer prevention or therapy.
In some places on the Internet you can also read that cancer can also be cured with cannabis. "That is not correct," says Weg-Remers. “It is true that the use of cannabis medicinal products has been approved for the treatment of cancer patients under certain conditions since March 2017. However, these are therapies to relieve symptoms. But that doesn't mean that cannabis can slow cancer growth. ”
Studies on cannabis as a cancer therapy in the strict sense are currently being carried out, in particular on cell cultures and in animal experiments, with results that have been contradictory to date. Ingredients of cannabis can have a cancer-inhibiting as well as a cancer-promoting effect in the experiment.
Whether the results can be transferred to humans at all is still completely open at the moment. So far, there are only a few individual reports in humans in which cannabis preparations have been ascribed a possible effect against cancer.
Example dichloroacetate (DCA)
This substance, the salt of dichloroacetic acid, is also often used as a miracle cure for cancer, although evidence of a possible effect of dichloroacetate against cancer comes mainly from basic research. According to the Cancer Information Service, large clinical studies are still underway to determine whether DCA is also effective and safe for cancer therapy in humans.
Despite this research, which has not yet been completed, there are also providers in Germany who advertise their effectiveness and, without circumventing drug regulations, offer dichloroacetate as a chemical in powder or capsule form. Patients must know that they buy such preparations not only at their own expense, but also at their own risk. The international cancer research agency (IARC) of the World Health Organization even classifies dichloroacetate as possibly carcinogenic (2b).
Not on your own
Another problem: taking untested substances can cause harmful side effects and interactions. "Rightly, the path from a potential active ingredient in the laboratory to an approved drug is a lengthy and highly complex process that plays it safe in every respect," says Weg-Remers.
Often an initially promising substance has to be discarded because it has proven unsuitable, ineffective or unsafe in the course of its extensive clinical trial. This should also be considered when promoting cancer therapy substances that are not approved as a drug.
The Cancer Information Service provides reliable information on the current state of research, the importance of substances for cancer treatment and on risks, side effects and interactions. (ad)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.