Breast cancer is one of the most prolific forms of cancer for women in the U.S. according to U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics. About one in eight U.S. women will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, and in 2018, over 40,000 women in the U.S. are expected to die from breast cancer.
So, it’s no wonder that breast cancer is one of the most researched diseases. Around the world, millions of women are desperate for a treatment and cure. The good news is that a new and more effective form of treatment might be closer than you think.
According to a study by researchers in California, a non-toxic, non-psychoactive compound in cannabis may block the progress of metastatic breast cancer. Cannabidiol (CBD) has been found to inhibit the gene, Id-1, that researches believe is mainly responsible for spreading cancer cells throughout the body.
In an interview with ABC News, Sean D. McAllister, the Lead Researcher and Associate Scientist at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco, talked about using cannabidiol as an alternative to standard breast cancer treatments. “This is a new way to treat a patient that is not toxic like chemotherapy or radiotherapy. It is a new approach for metastatic cancer,” he said.
The Id-1 gene is only found in metastatic cancer cells, and if doctors have the ability to turn this gene off, they can more effectively stop and treat even the latest stages of cancer. And that’s exactly what Senior Researcher Pierre-Yves Desprez is looking into.
“We are focusing on the latest stages of cancer,” Desprez told ABC News. In the late stages, it’s not the cancer itself that is dangerous because the tumor can always be easily removed with surgery. The problem is the development of metastatic cells, which carry the cancer throughout the body. CBD can inhibit those cells making breast cancer easier to treat.
And researchers in Madrid have come to the same conclusion. In 2012, researchers concluded that CBD and its derivatives “possess anti-cancer activity.” They found that cannabis can decrease tumor sizes, allow cells to kill themselves off, and stop the spread of tumor cells without harming healthy tissue. CBD has anti-proliferative, pro-apoptotic, anti-migratory, and anti-invasive properties.
Unfortunately, most doctors still can’t and won’t recommend cannabis as a treatment for breast cancer. Though the new findings about the effectiveness of cannabidiol were published in the November issue of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, more research needs to be completed before CBD is considered an effective treatment option. That’s why you won’t see the American Cancer Society recommending cannabis as a form of treatment.
And even in states where cannabis is legal, such as Massachusetts, gaining access to cannabis for breast cancer patients can be a struggle. Kate Murphy talked about her struggle to gain access to cannabis with WBUR—Boston’s NPR news station. Though Murphy suffered from extreme nausea due to her chemotherapy treatments, finding a doctor to recommend cannabis was an exercise in frustration.
“I was flabbergasted that there was no real resource A, B and C, and ‘here’s how you do it,’ ” she said. “What I liken it to is, ‘you need chemo, now go figure it out.’ I felt sad because you’re so lost and you’re so sick and this is so not your area of expertise, that it was very upsetting to me to not get direction one way or the other.”
Eventually Murphy found her way to Dr. Jordan Tishler, who runs a medical cannabis clinic in Cambridge and Brookline, but it was a long, drawn out process. Still, it was worth it in the end.
“It [Cannabis] made me feel like I had an appetite for the first time in probably six months,” she said. “Instead of lying around thinking about how sick I felt all the time—which was not my personality and very upsetting to my whole family—I was up and cooking, which was not anything I had done since I hadn’t felt well.”
That hope of feeling better is what has encouraged breast cancer patients to keep giving cannabis a chance. Most recently, Olivia Newton-John, a two-time breast cancer patient, told the Today Showthat medical cannabis helped to eliminate a lot of the discomfort she felt. She went on to say that while initially she had a lot of pain, taking medical cannabis helped her get past the pain.
“People have this vision from the ’60s of people just sitting around, you know, getting stoned. It’s not about that. This plant is a healing plant,” she told the Today Show. “Because I think we need to change the vision of what it is. Because it helped me greatly. And it helps with pain and inflammation.”
Even a quick search on Twitter brings up tweets from breast cancer survivors as well as those currently battling breast cancer who are finding help through cannabis.
Breast Cancer Warriors
@Dragonzwing14 is a nine-year breast cancer survivor who credits cannabis for part of her successful treatment.
And @courtsflooring boldly states that the only time his wife feels normal during her breast cancer struggle is when she takes cannabis.
The key is getting the word out about how effective cannabis can be for cancer treatment. We’d love to tell your story. If you want to help us #End420Shame, email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us how cannabis has helped you.