Cannabis in Breast Cancer: Exploring Therapeutic Potential and Alleviating Treatment Side Effects

Breast cancer requires early diagnosis and a variety of treatments. Research into the treatment potential of cannabis, related to the endocannabinoid system, is progressing to help treat and combat the disease.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed malignant tumor in women across the globe and the leading cause of death from malignant tumors. Early diagnosis plays a crucial role in the effective management of patients with breast cancer, which is currently achieved through diagnostic imaging and biopsy. Treatment strategies vary depending on the molecular subtype, and modern treatment includes a combination of surgery, radiation, and drug therapy. Despite improvements in detection and treatment, the incidence of breast cancer is continually increasing worldwide. Therefore, there is a need to explore new therapeutic methods, and predictive and prognostic factors to combat the disease.

Scientific exploration of cannabis’s potential in breast cancer treatment begins with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex network of receptors, endogenous cannabinoids, and enzymes involved in regulating various physiological processes, including cell growth and immune response. Research on the use of cannabis and the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in breast cancer is ongoing. 

Pre-clinical studies suggest cannabinoids can have antitumor properties across different breast cancer subtypes. These properties span a spectrum of effects, including the modulation of cancer cell cycle progression, the induction of apoptosis (programmed cell death), the inhibition of cancer cell migration, regulation of genetic expression, and even interference with angiogenesis—the process by which tumors establish their blood supplies. These interactions are complex, depending on the tumor type and the specific ECS component they target. 

Clinical trials investigating cannabinoids as anti-cancer agents are ongoing, shedding light on these compounds’ complexities, safety, and efficacy in breast cancer patients. However, it is essential to acknowledge that further research is necessary.

Alleviating Cancer Treatment Side Effects

The challenges associated with cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, often manifest in debilitating side effects, including pain, nausea, and vomiting. 

Cannabis has been used as a remedy for nausea and vomiting in many healing traditions throughout history. Over the past five decades, scientific research has pointed towards validation of this use of the plant’s constituents.

Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), among other compounds, have shown great potential in providing relief from pain, nausea, and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing treatment. These effects primarily involve the interaction between the cannabinoids and specific receptors, including CB15-HT1A and TRPV1. The therapeutic landscape expands when considering the entourage effect, where whole plant extracts exhibit greater effectiveness than isolated cannabinoids. This phenomenon suggests that the presence of other plant constituents enhances the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids.

A comprehensive review published in Current Treatment Options in Oncology highlighted the potential benefits of CBD as a supportive care drug in cancer, emphasizing its effectiveness in alleviating these debilitating symptoms. On top of that, cannabis can aid in coping with anxiety, depression, and insomnia, which are likely present in the lives of those battling cancer.

The use of cannabis in cancer care demands caution and open dialogue between patients and healthcare providers. Potential interactions with other medications underline the need for informed decisions and close medical supervision. Always disclose and discuss your use or desire to use cannabis with your doctor. 


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