More than three million American women have been diagnosed with some form of breast cancer. It’s one of the most common cancers affecting women, second only to skin cancer. But with early detection and new treatment options, deaths from breast cancer have been steadily decreasing over the past few decades. Today, the five-year survival rate for localized breast cancers stands at an astonishing 99 percent. For patients with invasive forms of the disease, the survival rate is 90 percent.
Those high survival rates are good news to the many women who undergo treatment for breast cancer. But surviving this common cancer can come with its own set of stresses and challenges. Treatments can have an array of unpleasant side effects, and living with a diagnosis of cancer can cause anxiety and depression.
Now, though, a growing body of research is revealing that cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive cannabis compound, may help breast cancer survivors cope with the physical and emotional aftermath of their treatments.
Breast Cancer Is a Complex Disease
Diagnosing and treating breast cancer can be difficult. Although some people have genetic markers for the disease, many others don’t, which makes it difficult to predict risk and take preventive measures.
Treatment depends on factors such as the location and size of a tumor, the patient’s overall health and whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. In general, though, breast cancer treatment options can include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, immunotherapy or a combination of options.
Breast Cancer Treatments Can Have Lasting Effects
These treatments can produce high survival rates, even in people whose cancer has become invasive—that is, it has spread beyond the breast itself. But they can have harsh effects on other parts of the body, and those effects can linger for months or years. Side effects and aftereffects of cancer treatment can include fatigue, blood clots, neuropathy (numbness and tingling), bone loss and problems with memory and cognition.
Along with these physical symptoms, breast cancer survivors can experience a range of emotional issues. Although some people are simply relieved to finish treatment and move on with their lives, others face anxiety, depression and fear that the cancer could return
How Can CBD Help Breast Cancer Survivors?
Several studies have shown that CBD and other cannabis compounds can be helpful during active cancer treatment. But for those in that post-treatment period known as “survivorship,” CBD’s many healing properties can also provide relief from both the physical and emotional aftereffects of cancer treatment.
CBD is just one of more than 100 different compounds and terpenes found in the Cannabis sativa plant, and these compounds are responsible for many of the major medical effects of cannabis.
Like other cannabinoid compounds, CBD can activate the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS)—a network of cell receptors responsible for maintaining homeostasis, or balance, in the body’s many subsystems. CBD can affect endocannabinoid receptors directly, and it can also support the activity of other systems and processes that affect mood, pain signaling and immune responses.
That’s why CBD can help with the following :
- Fight infections and boost the body’s immune system.
- Protect nerves and neural pathways from damage and support the development of new neural connections.
- Relieve pain from a variety of causes.
- Reduce anxiety and ease depression by supporting the body’s production of natural feel-good chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and anandamide.
CBD can also support cognitive functioning and memory as well as the cardiovascular and digestive systems.
These documented properties of CBD can help breast cancer survivors cope with common post-treatment issues with pain, as well as neurological and circulatory problems. CBD’s effects on mood and memory can also help survivors manage anxiety, brain fog and depression.
How Can Breast Cancer Survivors Take CBD?
Unlike standard prescription medications, there’s no right way to take CBD. This compound is available in many forms and strengths, and it can take a little experimentation to find the approach that’s right for you.
You can get the benefits of CBD along with the full suite of other cannabis compounds in natural cannabis strains cultivated for high CBD content, or through CBD products labeled “full spectrum.” These products may also contain some psychoactive THC, as well as the many other compounds and terpenes that occur naturally in the cannabis plant. But you can also get the benefits of CBD in products derived from hemp, which contains very little or no THC.
Smoking whole cannabis or vaping cannabis concentrate with high CBD content can provide relief, but so can CBD-infused edibles, tinctures and even topical ointments. Whatever products you choose, it’s wise to start with small doses and gradually increase the amount until you reach the desired effect.
Today, more people are surviving breast cancer than ever before, but survival can bring challenges of its own. With an array of documented benefits for both mind and body, CBD can help breast cancer survivors thrive after treatment ends.