The American Cancer Society estimates that 281,550 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every single year. Of this amount, as many as 43,600 sufferers will eventually lose their lives despite undergoing treatment for the disease and its debilitating symptoms.
Conventional methods of treatment for breast cancer—including chemotherapy—are known for causing a plethora of unwanted side effects. What’s more, traditional methods of treatment are not always successful. Enter cannabis, the plant medicine that is quickly becoming the remedy of choice for patients who have been diagnosed with breast cancer according to a recently conducted survey that was published in the journal Cancer.
The survey results show that 42% of breast cancer patients reported using pharmaceutical-grade cannabis—regardless of the risk for side effects—to tackle symptoms of the disease, including anxiety, nausea, pain, insomnia, stress, and vomiting.
The founder and chief medical officer of Breastcancer.org, Dr. Marisa C. Weiss, is the woman responsible for carrying out this survey into the use of medical cannabis among breast cancer patients. Weiss, who also works as the director at Pennsylvania’s Lankenau Medical Center in the breast health outreach breast radiation oncology departments, was joined by a team of researchers in her efforts.
Together, their goal was to discover more about patients who suffer from the potentially deadly type of cancer. Specifically, the team wanted to find out if diagnosed patients were more likely to use the plant for symptomatic relief, what information sources they utilized to learn about cannabis, and if they consulted with their healthcare practitioner pre-consumption.
“While people are actively under treatment, you want to make sure that all the things that they’re doing are helpful or at least harmless, but not harmful,” Weiss is quoted as saying in an interview with CURE. “It became clear over time, while taking care of cancer patients, that many of them were utilizing the increasing number of medical cannabis programs across the country.”
More cancer patients in the U.S. are actively using medical cannabis to treat cancer than ever before. Currently, based on data published by the National Conference of State Legislature, 36 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands allow medicinal cannabis use.
However, it should be noted that just a handful of legal medical cannabis states permit the use of the plant by patients who’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Weiss stated that patients ought to proceed cautiously so as to ensure that they are aware of any potential side effects that may occur when/if cannabis is consumed with other types of cancer treatment:
“It’s not good to be using multiple medications that are broken down by the same part of the liver. It might be an overload to the liver, it may affect the liver function. You don’t want to use things that have overlapping toxicity. For example, smoking or inhaling medical cannabis could make it more likely for you to develop a side effect of targeted chemotherapies called interstitial lung disease.”
A total of 612 patients battling breast cancer participated in the study. Of that amount, 42% claimed that they were using the plant to ease the following symptoms:
In addition to this, a staggering 79% of patients reportedly used medical cannabis before/during cancer treatments, like surgery, systemic therapies, and radiation. “The whole (cancer) experience is difficult, with uncertainty and disruption of your life,” Weiss said. “All these changes in your body, your self-perception, how much energy you have and all the sacrifices that people make when they go through treatment just to get to the other side, to give themselves the best shot at never seeing it again, and it comes at a price.”
Weiss further shared her knowledge on the cancer experience by elaborating on the ways in which the disease can chip away at a person’s quality of life. Most notably, she drew attention to the anxiety, insomnia, nausea, pain, and vomiting that some patients tend to struggle with. “Going through treatment is a rough ride, and people are seeking a solution for those symptoms,” she said, emphasizing the appeal of medical cannabis for breast cancer.
Despite the fact that the study’s findings represent a surge in medical cannabis consumption among breast cancer patients, the majority of patients are not keen on the idea of discussing the subject with their healthcare practitioner/doctor. While the reasons remain uncertain, it’s likely that the plant’s misconstrued image and federally illegal status contributed to their feelings on the matter.
Weiss believes that patients need to be as open as possible about their consumption habits, especially in cases whereby unwanted side effects may surface:
“There’s some people who get this unusual side effect. It’s called ‘hyperemesis syndrome’ from chronic overuse of cannabis, where you have nausea/vomiting from it. It just doesn’t agree with you, and the only cure for that is to stop using cannabis, but if the doctor doesn’t know you’re using cannabis and they think it all must be from the chemo, then they’re misunderstanding the situation. The doctor can’t be as helpful to you if they don’t really know what’s going on.”
Weiss asserted that the pharmaceutical medicine market is laden with alternative treatment options for cancer symptoms. Because of this, she stressed the importance of not missing the opportunity of alternative medications that could be more effective than traditional treatments.
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