Bill Turnbull's powerful documentary got plenty of people talking about the various treatment options he tried. One of our Specialist Nurses answers some commonly asked questions.

 Bill Turnbull gives pre-match speech in memory of Howard Kennedy

Did you see Bill Turnbull: Staying Alive recently on Channel 4? It's a powerful documentary that follows the TV presenter and journalist currently living with advanced prostate cancer as he goes through chemotherapy, tries diets and complementary therapies, and speaks to others with the disease, including Stephen Fry.

Many of you had questions and comments about the show. Here, one of our Specialist Nurses, Sophie, answers some commonly asked questions.

Q. Can cannabis help cure prostate cancer?

At the moment, we don’t know if cannabis can help treat prostate cancer. Some studies have looked at the effect of chemicals in cannabis, called cannabinoids, on prostate cancer cells. There are two main cannabinoids that have been investigated – THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). The studies found that cannabinoids may stop prostate cancer cells from growing and dividing, cause prostate cancer cells to die, and stop prostate cancer cells from invading other tissues and spreading.

But these studies have only looked at prostate cancer cells grown in laboratories or in mice. There’s a long way to go in understanding whether there might be similar effects in patients. Cells can behave very differently in humans, so we need clinical trials in humans to see if cannabinoids could be used to treat prostate cancer. We also don’t yet understand the mechanism by which the cannabinoids prevent prostate cancer cells from growing or dividing either.

Also, cannabinoids can have side effects that are unpleasant or even harmful. It’s important to remember that the cannabinoids used in studies are made in a laboratory and are only one of many chemicals that are found in cannabis. Street-bought (recreational) cannabis contains chemicals that can cause you to hallucinate and could harm your mental health.

At the moment, we don’t know if cannabis can help to treat prostate cancer.

There’s some evidence that cannabis-based medicines can help with long-term pain, including pain caused by cancer. Currently doctors in the UK can only prescribe cannabis-based medicines to treat nausea or vomiting caused by chemotherapy – when other medicines haven’t worked. Cannabis-based medicines aren’t available to treat cancer-related pain unless you’re taking part in a clinical trial. If you're interested, your doctor should be able to tell you about any clinical trials that might be suitable. You can also search for clinical trials at www.bepartofresearch.nihr.ac.uk

It’s important to remember that it’s illegal to grow or sell cannabis in the UK. It’s also illegal to have any cannabis-based products, unless a doctor has prescribed them for medicinal use. CBD oil is legal, but only if it contains extremely low levels of THC (less than 0.2%). However, there’s little evidence to suggest CBD oil benefits cancer patients and there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

Q. Can changing my diet and keeping physically active help fight prostate cancer?

This is a topic people often call us about. Eating healthily, being physically active and staying a healthy weight is important for general health, but can be especially important for men with prostate cancer.

Why? Well, firstly because there’s strong evidence that being overweight increases the risk of aggressive or advanced prostate cancer.

Staying a healthy weight may also mean your prostate cancer is less likely to spread after surgery or radiotherapy. And if you’re having hormone therapy to treat your prostate cancer, your treatment may be less effective if you’re very overweight.

If you’re experiencing side effects from prostate cancer treatment, such as weight gain, bone thinning or hot flushes from hormone therapy, bowel problems or urinary problems, making changes to your lifestyle may also help you manage them.

Our diet and physical activity factsheet is a great resource we often recommend to people with questions.

 

Eating healthily, being physically active and staying a healthy weight is also important for men with prostate cancer.

Q. Bill and his friend Nick made a vegetable broth which they said was great for men with prostate cancer. Are there any particular foods which help fight advanced prostate cancer?

People often ask us about foods they’ve heard might slow down the growth of prostate cancer, or lower the chance of it coming back after treatment. These include soya beans and other pulses, green tea, tomatoes and lycopene (a plant chemical found in tomatoes), cruciferous vegetables (for example, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) and pomegranate.

In all of these cases, there’s some evidence to suggest they might be helpful for men with prostate cancer – but other studies haven’t shown any effect. This means we can’t say for sure whether any of these foods can help.

Q. What treatments are available for men with advanced prostate cancer?

If you have prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (advanced prostate cancer), treatment won’t cure your cancer. But it can help keep it under control and manage any symptoms, often for several years.

If you’ve just been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, you may be offered some or a combination of the following treatments: chemotherapy with hormone therapy, hormone therapy alone, clinical trials, and in some cases, radiotherapy to the prostate.

If your cancer starts to grow again after your first treatment, there are other treatments that you can have to help control the cancer and manage any symptoms. These include: hormone therapy, including abiraterone or enzalutamide; more chemotherapy, radium-223(Xofigo®)or clinical trials.

There are also treatments available to manage symptoms, such as bone pain. They include: pain-relieving drugs, radiotherapy and bisphosphonates.

We Specialist Nurses are here to discuss your options whatever your situation, with all the time you need to talk.

The emotional impact

As Bill's powerful documentary shows, an advanced prostate cancer diagnosis can have a huge emotional impact on men and their families. We know it can be really overwhelming, and that’s why we’re here to support anyone affected by prostate cancer. We also have lots of online information on dealing with the emotional impact.

Here's a useful ‘how to manage’ guide specifically about advanced prostate cancer, with films of real-life stories and tips from people who have been through similar experiences.

If Bill’s documentary sparked questions or worries about prostate cancer or other prostate problems, get in contact with our Specialist Nurses. Call 0800 074 8383 (Monday-Friday: 9am-6pm, Wednesday: 10am-8pm) or chat with us online.

 

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