Bringing Medical Cannabis to the Battle Against Breast Cancer

October 15, 2020 11:52 am ET
Bringing Medical Cannabis to the Battle Against Breast Cancer

All over the world, nations have taken to raising breast cancer awareness throughout the month of October. This annual campaigning is done in hopes of empowering women and their loved ones with knowledge and information concerning one of the most common cancers out there affecting women. If the year 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we’re all in this together. The National Breast Foundation said it best when they explained that “our choices and actions have the power to protect the most vulnerable among us in a big way. The same holds true when it comes to breast cancer”.

By supporting the awareness campaign, women diagnosed with breast cancer get a chance to see how important their life is while equipping other women with the knowledge and tools for early detection. The awareness month allows for people to come together for major fundraising and information distribution, which supports breast cancer patients more than we’ll know… Well ladies, our favorite female plant, cannabis, is ready and waiting to help make your journey easier too!    

What is Breast Cancer?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, otherwise known as the CVC, defines breast cancer as “a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control”. There are different varieties of breast cancer that get diagnosed depending on which cells in the breast have turned cancerous. The breast is made up of three main parts called the lobules (the glands in the breast which produce milk), ducts (are the tubes which carry milk to the nipple), and connective tissue (consists of fibrous and fatty tissue which holds everything together). The CDC explains that most breast cancers begin in the ducts or the lobules and that cancer can spread beyond the breast through blood and lymph vessels. When cancer spreads from the breast to other parts of the body, it is referred to as having metastasized. 

The American Cancer Society explains that there are multiple types of breast cancers. These include: 

  • Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, also known as intraductal carcinoma, which is a non-invasive or pre-invasive form of breast cancer. 
  • Invasive Breast Cancer refers to invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) and invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), which is cancer cells that have begun in the lobules or ducts and have spread into surrounding breast tissue. These forms of cancer have been estimated to account for 70-80% of all breast cancers. 
  • Triple Negative Breast Cancer is an aggressive form of invasive breast cancer which has been estimated to account for 15% of all breast cancers. 
  • Inflammatory Breast Cancer is a very rare form of invasive breast cancer that involves symptoms of inflammation such as swelling and redness. It is caused by cancer cells blocking off lymph vessels in the skin. 

Even less common types of breast cancer include Paget Disease, Phyllodes Tumor, and Angiosarcoma which each accounts for less than 1%, but to at most 2%, of all breast cancers. 

What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer?

While it is good to understand the symptoms of having breast cancer, one should immediately contact their physician but should not panic because the symptoms are shared by other conditions. It is also important to remember that just as we are all different, so will our experience be with breast cancer symptoms, which are as follows.

  • Lump(s) in the breast(s) or armpit(s).
  • Swelling of the breast(s) or parts thereof.
  • Irritated breast skin. 
  • Dimpling of breast skin. 
  • Redness of skin or nipple area.
  • Flaky skin in the nipple or the breast.
  • Pain in the nipple area.
  • The sinking of the nipple.
  • Nipple discharge other than breast milk.
  • Changes in the shape and size of the breast,
  • Pain in any area of the breast. 

If you have any of these symptoms which cause you to worry, see your physician as soon as possible. It may turn out to be nothing or benign, which will put your mind at ease. If it turns out you may have cancerous cells, well then hopefully its’ been caught soon enough to treat. 

Cannabis and Breast Cancer

The Breast Cancer Organization explains that while cannabis may not be a treatment for breast cancer, it can be consumed in order to alleviate the side effects of cancer treatment as well as the pain caused by cancer. ‘However, considering that cannabis is still illegal at a federal level, the research on using cannabis to manage cancer treatment side effects is still limited. Treatment side effects include nausea, vomiting, hot flushes, pain, the onset of menopause, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and anxiety… all of which have plenty of anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of cannabis on the symptom.

In an interview with Healio, Marisa Weiss, director of breast radiation oncology at Lankenau Medical Center and chief medical officer said that a survey showed 97% of the patients reported using cannabis during active treatment of cancer such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and radiation and that it was consumed in order to treat one or more of the symptoms or side effects related to the diagnosis and treatment. In the same study, 75% of the participants reported that cannabis was very effective for managing symptoms. Dr. Weiss also explained that the overall interest in the use of medical cannabis for breast cancer was at an all-time high and that “patients’ interest in cannabis is not going away, it is only getting stronger. We as doctors really need to be more educated about how to share decision making with our patients. Otherwise, they’re going to make these decisions without us, and safety is at stake”. 

Dr. Borges, a breast cancer specialist, told the Breast Cancer organization that “It’s rare that a person living with metastatic breast cancer would have only one side effect to manage. So, by adding in medical marijuana, it often allows me to cut back on the number of drugs I prescribe. With a high-quality source for medical marijuana and knowing how it affects an individual, using medical marijuana can put more control back in the hands of my patient. If someone is feeling good, she may only need to take one or two drops per day. If she’s not feeling good, she may need three or four drops per day. Many of the prescription drugs don’t have this flexibility. Any time you can give control back to a person when they’re living with cancer, it’s a good thing”. 

Most oncologists would prefer that their patients do not smoke, so breast cancer patients may want to turn to edibles, oils, ointments, and tinctures instead. 

How Cannabis Can Help Breast Cancer Patients:

  • Alleviation of pain. 
  • Reduction in inflammation.
  • Elevating mood and alleviating stress and anxiety.
  • Improved sleep
  • Better tolerance of cancer treatment.
  • Reduction and alleviation of nausea and vomiting.
  • Better symptom management.
  • Appetite stimulation.
  • Reduction in need of pharmaceutical medication for symptoms and side-effects. 

Early Detection is Key

It is important to remember that breast cancer can be cured if it is detected early. Here are some steps for self-administered breast examinations in order to locate lumps, bumps, and/or other physical changes that may be indicative of cancer, although most lumps and bumps are diagnosed as benign (not-harmful). 

Self Breast Examination:

  1. Look at your breasts in the mirror. Make sure that your shoulders are straight and that your arms are at your side. Things to look for: (a) unusual size, shape, or/and color as well as (b) uneven shapes without swelling or other visible distortion. 
  2. Now, still looking in the mirror, raise your arms above your head. Things to look for: (a) unusual size, shape, or/and color as well as (b) uneven shapes without swelling or other visible distortion. 
  3. Lift one arm to shoulder height and use the opposite hand to the breast (the one that has not been lifted). Use your head to squeeze or compress the nipple. Repeat for the other breast. Things to look for: Unusual discharge from one or both of the nipples such as milky, yellow, or clear fluid and blood)
  4. Lay down and use your right hand to feel the left breast and the left hand to feel the right breast. Use a firm and smooth touch to make small circular motions. Make sure to do this for the entire breast, which means from top to bottom (about the length of going from your collarbone to the top of the abdomen) and side to side (about the length of going from the cleavage to the armpit). Things to feel for: Anything that is unusual which feels lumpy, bumpy, and painful.
  5. This step can be done in the shower to make it easier to feel. While standing, use the same hand movements as in number 4 to examine the entire breast again. Things to feel for: Anything that is unusual which feels lumpy, bumpy, and painful. 

Once you have concluded your breast examination and happened to find a lump with or without some of the other symptoms (such as the fluid from nipples), DON’T PANIC! 8 out of 10 women with lumps in their breasts do not have cancerous lumps but most likely a cyst according to WebMD

The CDC also stated that there is no typical breast. Which means that what is normal for one woman, may not be for another. Your breasts’ look and feel could also be affected by your period, having children, fluctuation in weight, and even some pharmaceutical medications. Despite the good chance that your lumps are benign, breast cancer does cause suffering amongst many women, which means it’s best to be proactive with breast examinations. If you are going through the process of being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, remember that cannabis can make handling the treatment much better while alleviating symptoms, essentially improving your quality of life.

In light of breast cancer awareness month, we send a special shoutout to our sisters battling the red devil. We honor your courage in the face of uncertainty and your strength for soldiering on. 

Post Your Comments

Bernard Wayne says:

October 17, 2020 at 12:53 pm

I suffer with arthritis everyday but do not want to be on pain medications everyday and gels and over the counter and cbs had not worked I’d like try this avenue

Arthur says:

October 21, 2020 at 4:25 pm

I need a something that will make me sleep. I’ve tried cbd pills but they didn’t work

Lauren Dragoo says:

October 21, 2020 at 4:48 pm

Check out our article on sleep or try strains that are high in CBN! CBN is wonderful for helping with sleep.

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