Cannabis & Breast Cancers
Medical Marijuana and Breast Cancer
You’ve probably seen someone wearing a pink ribbon to honor the numerous breast cancer patients in the U.S. Breast cancer has touched the lives of many Americans, whether they’ve dealt with it themselves or know a loved one who has.
As with other cancers, researchers continue to look for a cure for breast cancer. Currently, patients undergo harsh treatments such as chemotherapy to treat the disease, while physicians manage the patient’s symptoms separately. Chemo itself causes many side effects difficult to endure.
What Is Breast Cancer?
As the name implies, breast cancer is cancer that begins in the breasts. When a person has cancer, their body’s old cells don’t die off, and they create malignant tumors. A cancer is named after the place it begins, so even if breast cancer spreads to other locations in the body, the name doesn’t change.
Most breast cancers start in the ducts used for carrying milk. The second-most-common breast cancer begins in the glands that produce milk. Cancers that occur in other parts of the breast are less common, but they do happen.
Healthy cells become cancerous when the DNA in them mutates. In most cases of breast cancer, the mutation occurs during the patient’s life instead of being inherited. We still don’t entirely understand what causes genes to mutate in this way.
However, we still know some risk factors that increase your likelihood of getting breast cancer. Risk factors you can control include:
- Lack of physical activity
- Hormonal changes like having children and taking birth control
- Being obese or overweight
- Drinking alcohol
But you can’t do anything about other risks, like:
- Inherited genes and family history
- Previous diagnosis of breast cancer
- Exposure to radiation
- Being female
- Older age
By living a healthy lifestyle and understanding risks you can’t control, you have a better chance of avoiding breast cancer and detecting it if you get it.
Types of Breast Cancer
There isn’t just one type of breast cancer — it can manifest in different ways. We classify specific types of breast cancer so we can understand how to treat each case.
Breast cancer falls into two different categories based on whether it has spread or not. In situ breast cancers haven’t spread yet, while invasive breast cancers have spread to other parts of the breast or body.
You can further categorize breast cancer into the following diagnoses:
- Ductal carcinoma begins in the breast’s milk ducts and can be in situ or invasive.
- Lobular carcinoma originates in the milk-producing glands and can be in situ or invasive.
- Inflammatory breast cancer makes up about 1-3% of all breast cancer cases. Instead of appearing as a lump, your breast becomes swollen and inflamed.
- Other, less-common types of breast cancer include Paget disease of the nipple, phyllodes tumors and angiosarcoma.
If you find anything unusual when you perform a self-exam, talk with your doctor as soon as possible. Even if you don’t think your symptoms fit into one of these categories, a medical professional can use their expertise to determine the issue.
Breast Cancer Detection and Diagnosis
To minimize the chance of mortality as much as possible, it’s important to detect breast cancer early. Many people with breast cancer don’t experience symptoms, so the easiest way to catch breast cancer before it spreads is to perform regular screenings.
You can check for breast cancer using a few methods. Women over 45 years old should get annual mammograms to track changes in the breasts. Also, you can perform regular self-exams to understand the typical shape and feel of your breasts.
Breast Cancer Symptoms
The number one symptom of breast cancer is a lump that wasn’t there before. Hard masses with irregular edges tend to be cancerous, but cancerous lumps can also be soft and rounded. If you find a lump in your breast you didn’t have previously, you should get checked by a doctor right away.
In addition to a lump, other symptoms include swelling in your breast, pain, retracted nipples, discharge and irritation or redness. Breast cancer also causes typical cancer symptoms, like fatigue, pain and extreme weight loss.
Facts About Breast Cancer
Did you know breast cancer is the second-most-lethal cancer for women, only surpassed by lung cancer? You may not know these other breast cancer facts:
- The United States has over 3.1 million survivors of breast cancer.
- Men can get breast cancer, too, although it is around 100 times less common.
- Approximately one in eight women will develop breast cancer.
- Having a mother, sister or daughter with breast cancer almost doubles your risk of getting it.
Typical Treatments for Breast Cancer
The cancer treatment you receive depends on the type and stage of your breast cancer. Additionally, your other health problems influence what treatment you get. For example, some patients can’t have certain kinds of surgeries.
Doctors often try to remove cancer from the breast surgically. Depending on the severity of your cancer, they can perform a breast-conserving surgery or mastectomy. While breast-conserving surgeries only remove part of the breast, mastectomies remove the entire breast.
Some patients receive radiation therapy, usually as a supplement to other treatments. The procedure involves using high-energy rays to destroy the cancer cells in your body. When you get a removal surgery, your doctor will often recommend radiation therapy to lower the chance of the cancer returning.
You might also receive drugs to treat your breast cancer. Chemotherapy, one of the most well-known cancer treatments, can be used to treat patients when they get surgery or when they have advanced breast cancer. Since estrogen can help cancer develop, some patients receive hormone therapy that blocks the estrogen receptors in the breast cancer cells.
However, not all patients have access to these treatments. They might not have the insurance coverage or can’t go through a procedure due to health problems. Plus, many of these methods can put you and your body under a lot of stress. Medical marijuana can help patients find an alternative to the typical routes to address breast cancer.
Using Medical Cannabis for Breast Cancer
Not only does medical marijuana have the potential to reduce cancer cells, but it can also relieve the symptoms you experience. While it can’t replace the current treatments we have for cancer, it can complement them to make the side effects easier to manage.
Data suggests non-psychoactive cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) could help prevent breast cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. Researchers used a synthetic cannabinoid modeled after CBD on breast cancer cells. They found making compounds that target multiple cannabinoid receptors in breast cancer cells could reduce the likelihood of them spreading.
While the National Cancer Institute states that there isn’t enough evidence to officially recommend cannabis for cancer treatment, it has collected studies and data on the subject. Preclinical trials suggest marijuana can kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells. One study indicates marijuana can enhance chemotherapy, allowing patients to take smaller doses.
Breast Cancer & Medical Marijuana Research
Cannabinoids, or cannabis compounds, have shown great potential as an antitumor agent. Antitumor agents kill off cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying. Researchers examined the effects of various cannabinoids on breast cancer cells, specifically focusing on cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG) and cannabichromene (CBC). Since most research before their study looked at THC’s effects, they wanted to get more data on these less-studied components.
The team discovered that CBD and CBD extract worked the best to prevent cancer cell growth. Compared to THC, CBD performed the most effectively. They noted that the CB2 receptor seemed to be involved in their antitumor properties.
Another study discovered that endocannabinoids, or the cannabinoids our bodies make, could also prevent breast cancer cell growth. They examined anandamide, an endocannabinoid that activates the CB1 receptor. When they applied it to isolated breast cancer cells, the cancer cells grew much less frequently. Similar endocannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids had comparable effects.
It seemed that these cannabinoids interacted with the CB1 receptor to reduce the tumor growth. When they added a substance that blocks the CB1 receptors, the effects of the cannabinoids stopped. Antibodies related to breast milk reduction also appeared to have a relation.
Keeping Energy up During Treatment With Medical Cannabis
You can also lean on medical marijuana to maintain your energy levels throughout the day. If you feel chronically fatigued, you can use a sativa strain to feel more energy.
On the other hand, if your other symptoms make it difficult to sleep, an indica strain will relax you and help you sleep.
Cannabis can also assist you with some issues related to food and digestion. It can stimulate your appetite to help you maintain your weight. Also, it relieves nausea caused by chemotherapy treatment.
Additionally, pot provides tons of patients with pain relief, whether they have cancer or not. In fact, it’s one of the health problems most commonly treated with marijuana. You can find a strain to target the exact kind of pain you experience.
Best Ways to Use Medical Marijuana for Breast Cancer
Using medical marijuana isn’t just limited to smoking. Patients have many options for using their medicinethat provide different benefits. The right choice for you will depend on your health problems and other factors. You may also react to certain methods better than others — everyone is uniquely affected by weed.
Let’s take a look at the most popular ways to take marijuana medication:
- Smoking: When you smoke weed, you feel the results faster compared to other consumption methods. But it has similar risks to smoking tobacco, since burning marijuana also releases chemicals bad for you. If possible, you may want to avoid smoking your medicine.
- Vaping: Vaping serves as a healthier alternative to smoking, but it doesn’t entirely eliminate the damage to your lungs. If you use a high-quality vaporizer that minimally chars the weed, it will only emit a few You might want to vape your medicine if you need more immediate relief and don’t need to take your meds frequently.
- Topicals: For the most part, patients use topicals for targeted pain treatment for joint pain and muscle aches. But patches fall under the topical category, and they could help you manage your symptoms. Even though the benefits slowly build over time, the medicine comes in direct contact with your bloodstream.
- Edibles: Edibles serve as another extended release medicine. You will begin to feel the weed in edibles later than you would with inhalation, but you will feel it longer. If you decide to eat an edible, stick to more nutritious options.
- Oil: CBD oil is an incredibly popular type of marijuana medicine patients add to their food. There are also oils recreational users tend to use, such as Rick Simpson oil (RSO). RSO also works as an addition to your meals.
- Pills and tinctures: If you prefer an experience similar to taking traditional medicine, some dispensaries sell pills and tinctures with CBD and/or THC in them. If you’ve never used a tincture before, you just have to use the dropper to put the solution under your tongue.
The best way to figure out what method helps you the most is experimenting with each one under the supervision of your doctor. While exploration can help you find the right choice, taking too high a dose can harm your health.
Cannabis Side Effects
Patients define the side effects of marijuana, not manufacturers, since cannabis is a natural medicine not produced by pharmaceutical companies. Some of the side effects of medical marijuana actually double as a treatment for breast cancer patients.
The effects that will help people with breast cancer include:
- Hunger/increased appetite: Like other types of cancer, breast cancer can reduce your appetite, which also exacerbates rapid weight loss. Medical marijuana gives you “the munchies,” or an increase in appetite. While the increase feels inconvenient for some patients, it will help you get nutrients if you have appetite issues.
- Insomnia/energy boost: Cancer exhausts the person experiencing it. Depending on the strain of marijuana, you could use it to feel a burst of energy. Make sure you choose the right strain of marijuana and take it during the day instead of at night.
- Drowsiness/sleep aid: Some of the symptoms of cancer and its treatments, such as pain and nausea, can make it difficult for a patient to fall asleep. If you take a relaxing strain at night, you can get a better night’s rest.
Addressing Side Effects Caused by Medical Cannabis
However, other effects of marijuana will function as unwanted side effects for breast cancer patients. Luckily, every one of them has an easy solution. These side effects include:
- Short-Term memory loss: If you take your medicine during the day or whenever you complete your daily tasks, you might forget things quickly and easily. In this case, you should use your medication at a different time if possible.
- Red eyes: As the least-harmful cannabis side effect, red eyes might not even bother you. But if you feel uncomfortable having reddened eyes, you can use over-the-counter eye drops.
- Dry mouth or thirst: Some patients feel thirstier than usual when they use weed. Drinking more water and chewing gum with xylitol can help you produce more saliva. Plus, hydration is awesome for your health.
- Respiratory issues: Inhaling marijuana can damage your lungs and other parts of your respiratory system. Try taking your medicine in a different way that doesn’t involve smoking or vaping.
- Uneasiness or anxiety: While we know marijuana as a calming drug, it can also make certain users feel uneasy and paranoid. You should bring up this side effect to your doctor so you can try a different strain or dosage.
Giddiness: Giddiness is different from happiness in the sense that it makes it difficult to think clearly and function normally. This is another situation where you should use weed at a different time of day.
This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals. If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.