Breast Cancer & Medical Marijuana

By Marie Veksler | August 25, 2014

Breast cancer forms when normal healthy cells change and grow uncontrollably to form a mass or tumor in breast tissue. Current statistics show that 1 in every 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer in her life. It was estimated that 296,980 women would be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States in the year 2013, but only 64,640 of those cases would be invasive.

Breast cancer is the most highly diagnosed type of cancer in women besides skin cancer, and can begin in a few different locations within the breast. One area at risk of developing breast cancer is the lobule, a gland in a woman’s breast that makes milk. A duct is the structure that carries the milk to the nipple. Breast cancer can develop in the lobule, duct, or in the tissue in between.

Although it is far less common in men, it is possible for a man to develop a tumor in his breast tissue. Only 2,240 cases of invasive breast cancer were expected to be diagnosed in men in the year 2013. The most common symptom of breast cancer for men is a firm, non painful mass located below the nipple.

There is a 5 stage ranking system for the severity of breast cancer, stage 0 through stage IV.  Stages are used to describe the location of the tumor, how much it has grown, and if or where it has spread. Stage 0 is used to describe non invasive cancer that has not spread. Stage IV cancer is very invasive, and has spread. The most commonly diagnosed type of breast cancer is Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Cancer.org states that this type of breast cancer begins in the duct, breaks through the wall of the duct to spread to breast tissue. Out of every 10 diagnosed cases of breast cancer, 8 are said to be Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.

Maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising, eating healthy, and avoiding smoking cigarettes can help to lower the risk of developing breast cancer.The most significant breast cancer risk factors, however, cannot be controlled. They are gender and age. Being female is the biggest risk factor for developing this disease. Living to be aged 55 years or older also increases the chances of developing breast cancer.

DNA or gene mutations are also associated with an increased risk of developing this disease. Gene mutations can either be inherited or acquired. Inherited mutations on the BRCA genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2) are bad news because the BRCA genes are tumor suppressors. If the tumor suppressing gene is mutated, it will not work properly when a mass begins to form in the body. It is not that the BRCA mutation causes breast cancer, but rather that it does nothing to stop the growth of abnormal cells. Acquired gene mutations are a higher risk factor than those passed down from your parents. According to the acquired gene mutation section published on Cancer.org, “Most DNA mutations related to breast cancer occur in single cell during a woman’s life rather than having been inherited.”

It is very important for a woman to do a self breast exam every month because early detection greatly increases the chances of a full recovery. The Susan G Komen Foundation provides a great reference with pictures for symptoms and warning signs of breast cancer on the foundation website.

There are 5 commonly used umbrella treatment options for breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. These treatments have different sub categories as well. These most commonly used treatments are:

  • SurgeryLumpectomy or Mastectomy
  • Radiation- External or Internal
  • ChemotherapyOral or Intravenous
  • Hormone Therapy removes or blocks hormones known to increase tumor growth.
  • Targeted Therapy uses antibodies, drugs or other substances to target ONLY cancer cells without harming normal cells.

The treatment options listed above are invasive, and often leave the patient with more severe symptoms and suffering than what the breast cancer caused in the first place. For this reason, the search for a different treatment option is under way. One segment of exploration is the use of Medicinal Marijuana. Cannabis concentrates are showing signs of hope in the world of breast cancer treatment.

A study published in the US National Library of Medicine states that Cannabidiol (CBD) administered in highly concentrated doses, demonstrated the ability to reduce the size of tumor mass as well as inhibit the spread and development of more human breast cancer cells. NBC did a video segment on this study. You can watch it here!

There is still much more research to be done on this topic, but it looks like medicinal cannabis has the potential to earn a place in the list of common breast cancer treatments in the future.

Marie Veksler

With more than 15 years of cannabis education and experience, Marie is dedicated to sharing knowledge about the versatile plant while expanding the stoner stereotype. Email tips to marie@massroots.com.

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