Over three million American women have been diagnosed with some form of breast cancer. Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting women, second only to skin cancer. And men can develop breast cancer too, although far less frequently.
Deaths from breast cancer have been steadily decreasing over the past few decades. And now, the five-year survival rate for localized breast cancers stands at an astonishing 99%. For patients with invasive forms of the disease, the survival rate is 90%.
But surviving breast cancer can come with its own set of stresses and challenges. Research reveals that cannabidiol (CBD) may help with the physical and emotional aftermath of breast cancer treatments.
Breast Cancer Is a Complex Disease
Diagnosing and treating breast cancer can be complicated. Although some people have genetic markers for the disease, many others don’t, which makes it difficult to predict risk and take preventive measures.
And although most people are familiar with the signature symptom of a lump in the breast, some forms of breast cancer have entirely different symptoms, such as:
- Warmth and redness in the breast
- Nipple discharges
- Unusual irritation or puckering of the skin, resembling an orange peel.
Breast cancer can run in families, especially those with genes that suppress tumor growth. People with close relatives who have certain types of cancer seem to be more at risk. These cancers include:
And a person who has had cancer in one breast is at a higher risk of developing it in the other breast.
Hormones can also contribute to the development of breast cancer. Early menstruation and late menopause appear to raise the risk, and so does hormone replacement therapy for menopause symptoms. Likewise, having no children or having a first child after the age of 35 can raise the breast cancer risk. Researchers believe that’s because these situations increase the exposure of breast tissue to estrogens.
Even race and ethnicity can play a role in breast cancer risk. People of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are more at risk, as are younger black women and older white women.
Lifestyle factors can also contribute to breast cancer risk. Documented risk factors include:
- Alcohol intake
- Lack of exercise
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 include:
- Radiation therapy
- Hormonal therapy
Breast Cancer Treatments Can Have Lasting Effects
Today’s treatments for breast cancer can produce high survival rates, even in people whose cancer has become invasive—that is, it has spread beyond the breast itself.
But those treatments can have harsh effects on other parts of the body, and those effects can linger for months or years. Long-term effects of breast cancer treatment can include:
- Peripheral neuropathy (numbness and tingling in hands and feet)
- Bone loss
- Menopause symptoms
- Heart problems
- Lymphedema (swelling caused by damage to lymph nodes during treatment)
- Blood clots
- 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.
CBD’s Healing Properties Can Help Breast Cancer Survivors
Several studies have shown that CBD and other cannabis compounds can be helpful during active cancer treatment. Cannabis can help relieve the nausea and loss of appetite that often goes along with chemotherapy, and some research has shown that cannabis can even slow the development and spread of cancerous cells.
But for those in that post-treatment period known as “survivorship,” CBD’s many other 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 it’s responsible for many of the major medical effects of cannabis.
CBD and other compounds including the well-known compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) 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:
- Pain signaling
- Immune responses
That’s why CBD can be:
- Anti-inflammatory: CBD can help fight infections and boost the body’s own immune responses.
- Neuroprotective: CBD can protect nerves and neural pathways from damage and support the development of new neural connections.
- Analgesic: Research reveals that CBD can help to relieve pain from a variety of causes—and that it can be as effective as prescription pain medications.
- Anxiolytic: CBD can help to 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 issues like:
- Post-treatment pain
- Neurological symptoms
- Brain fog
- Circulatory problems
How Can Breast Cancer Survivors Take CBD?
Unlike standard prescription medications, there’s not a 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.” CBD-infused edibles, tinctures and even topical ointments can also provide the benefits of CBD without smoking or vaping.
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.
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