Tell Someone About Cervical Cancer


Merck launched an awareness campaign recently to encourage women to tell someone about how the HPV virus can lead to cervical cancer, one of the leading forms of cancer among women.  Merck has developed several different web sites (,, etc),  as "public service announcements." 

However, there has been some criticism of Merck's approach since the campaign was launched just before Merck's introduction of an anti-HPV drug called Gardasil. 

Cervical Cancer Vaccine Approved

A recent article in the Boston Globe "Preventing a Cancer" describes how a new vaccine called Gardasil by pharmaceutical giant Merck has now been approved by the FDA for the prevention of cervical cancer and HPV (human papillomavirus).  The vaccine is controversial since it requires innoculation in young girls prior to sexual relations.  In addition, Gardasil costs more than $300 for the necessary three treatments.  The vaccine does not eliminate the need for traditional Pap tests.

Worldwide, cervical cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in women killing an estimated 240,000 women annually, including 3,700 in the United States.  More information is available in the links below.

Sister Mary Jane


Over Christmas, I encouraged my mother to try medical marijuana as a way to deal with nausea and discomfort from chemotherapy.  Studies have shown conclusively that marijuana has been effective in increasing appetite, combatting nausea and improving the well-being of patients. It's hard not to write about marijuana without getting into the politics of the situation.  While I am no expert, it appears that the laws in the US have been driven without regard for the benefits of medical marijuana in treating terminal diseases such as cancer. 

Since medical marijuana is not technically available in Florida, there were a few challenges along the way.  Not only is marijuana illegal, but if you're seventy-three, it's just not that easy to come by.  There are no medical marijuana distribution centers in Florida, no compassion centers, no network that we knew of.  Unlike say, Colorado, where pot is easily acquired by patients , Florida laws are tough and posession of 20 g (less than an ounce) is a felony, so it is very hard for a stranger to buy pot there.  But a friend of my mother's had offered her marijuana a couple of years earlier when she was previously going through chemotherapy.  I told my mother, "if she offers again, take her up on it."

My mother was initally uncomfortable with the idea of smoking marijuana, but the side-effects of her anti-nausea medicine were sometimes severe and conventional treatment wasn't working.  She had qualms about using an illegal drug, but my parents read a study by Safe Access Now  and we read up on some sites by some local activists.  We also spoke to some doctors and none said it would be a bad idea.  She tried it and it relieved pain and it helped stimulate appetite.

Later in January, doctors gave her a prescription for Marinol, a synthetic form of THC, one of the ingredients in marijuana.  Marinol is more expensive than marijuana, at about $900 a month and unfortunately less effective.  My mother said the Marinol was helpful for a few days.  Shortly after, it seemed less effective than smoking pot, she said.  Compared to natural marijuana, its psychoactive effects are sometimes overwhelming.  Once my mother started with the hospice program in late January, they refused to cover the expense of Marinol, so my parents gave up on it, and used medical marijuana instead.

Through friends of friends, cryptic conversations and stealth package drops from unidentified sources, my mother was able to get a small but steady supply of marijuana.  She had smoked cigarettes for many years, so she was able to take a couple of puffs once in a while as required.  I don't think she ever got "high" from it --she never had cravings for Cherry Garcia ice cream --but it worked better than any of the prescription drugs at relieving nausea and pain.  She said it was a god send.  We teased her about smoking pot and got her a tie-dye t-shirt and an ash tray with the "Flying Nun" picture by Santa Cruz artist Janet Ellinger, shown above.

Thank you for all those anonymous people who helped out with this project.  You made my mother's final months more bearable.

Think what you will about whether marijuana should be legalized or whether it's better or worse for society than alcohol or tobacco.  But for medical purposes I defy anyone to look a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy in the eye and deny them access to the one drug that is proven to help them.  For those seeking more information, I have listed several links below which may be helpful. 

I chose not to write about my mother's use of medical marijuana until after she died.  I asked her on one of my visits if she was ok with me writing about it and she agreed.

Economist on Medical Marijuana


The Economist April 29 issue has an article on medical marijuana.  Last month the US FDA issued a statement saying that there are no accepted medical uses for smoking marijuana.  This is despite the fact that marijuana has in fact been used for medicinal purposes for more than a thousand years.  Oh yeah, and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences has issued a contradictory report showing that there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana in treating patients with a range of medical problems including cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

Diet and Ovarian Cancer


Can diet help fight ovarian cancer?  Two new studies suggest a possible link.  Findings from a University of Michigan study indicate that ginger can cause ovarian cancer cells to die.  Usually ovarian cancer patients develop a recurrant form of the disease that stops responding to chemotherapy.   

A second study from Harvard was presented at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) suggesting that increased dietary flavinoids, such as those found in tea, red wine, soy beans, walnuts and various vegetables, could reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. 

Ovarian Cancer Test Elusive


USA Today ran a story on ovarian cancer testing that discusses the challenges of detecting ovarian cancer.  Nearly three out of four women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer after it has spread beyond the ovaries, making it the fourth-leading cancer killer among women.  While no testing can lead to "false positives", early detection remains key in treating ovarian cancer.

The article also has a quick summary of the pros and cons of screening methods including CA-125, sonograms and the OvaCheck blood test.   

Painkillers Reduce Risk of Ovarian Cancer


A recent study from Duke University Medical Center indicates that use of common painkillers such as Ibuprofen and Aspirin (known technically as NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.)  NSAID users were 28% less likely to develop ovarian cancer than non-users. 

Further research is required in order to confirm the link between NDAIDs and cancer and clarify various issues.  

Kentucky Ovarian Cancer Screening


The University of Kentucky has announced results from their ovarian cancer screening program.  To date more than 25,000 women have participated recieving more than 120,000 screenings.  The process takes 5 to 10 minutes and is completely painless. 

Ovarian cancer is often referred to as the "silent killer" since it is often not detected until it is in an advanced stage.  Early detection through screenings is a key initiative in reducing the mortality rate. 

New Treatment for Ovarian Cancer


Several news services, including the New York Times, have published an article highlighting the results of a recent study on ovarian cancer from the New England Journal of Medicine showing that abdominal chemotherapy could help patients.  This is the third such study in a decade to show positive results with this treatment.  The National Cancer institute took the unusual step of formally announcing to doctors that they should offer this treatment to all women who met the criteria.  The abdominal treatment combined with traditional intravenous chemotherapy could add sixteen months or more to the lives of women with advanced chemotherapy.

But the abdominal treatment is not without its challenges.  The side-effects are more severe than traditional chemotherapy. The process is also more difficult to administer.  But as the New England Journal of Medicine points out, the intense therapy boosts survival rates.



Marinol is synthetic form of marijuana's active ingredient delta-9-tetrahyrdocannabinol, known as THC.  Marinol is prescribed in advanced cases of cancer treatment to help releive nausea and improve appetite, frequent side-effects of chemotherapy for cancer patients. 

There is some debate in the medical marijuana community as to the efficacy of Marinol.  While the DEA takes a hard line that a pill is safer than smoking, there is evidence that smoking marijuna is actually easier and more beneficial for patients. 

Rhode Island has recently become the 11th state to legalize medical marijuana along with Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.  For patients in these states, natural medical marijuana may be more practical and cost-effective than Marinol.  But for patients who cannot easily get access to marijuana, Marinol may be a viable alternative.