Many breast cancer patients use cannabis without the knowledge of physicians

New research indicates that almost half of U.S. adults with breast cancer use cannabis (marijuana and hemp), most commonly alongside cancer treatment to manage symptoms and side effects. However, most patients don't discuss their use of cannabis with their physicians. The findings are published by Wiley early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

Individuals with cancer often experience pain, fatigue, nausea, and other difficulties that arise from cancer and its treatment. Some turn to cannabis for relief of their symptoms, but many physicians feel that they lack the knowledge needed to discuss cannabis with their patients. Such knowledge is especially important now that cancer is specified as a qualifying condition in nearly all states with medical cannabis programs.

Investigators recently conducted an anonymous online survey to examine cannabis use among adults who were diagnosed with breast cancer within five years and were members of the and online health communities.

Among the major findings:

Our study highlights an important opportunity for providers to initiate informed conversations about medical cannabis with their patients, as the evidence shows that many are using medical cannabis without our knowledge or guidance. Not knowing whether or not our cancer patients are using cannabis is a major blind spot in our ability to provide optimal care, and as healthcare providers, we need to do a better job of initiating informed conversations about medical cannabis with our patients to make sure their symptoms and side effects are being adequately managed while minimizing the risk of potential adverse effects, treatment interactions, or non-adherence to standard treatments due to misinformation about the use of medical cannabis to treat cancer."

Marisa Weiss, MD, and Lankenau Medical Center near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dr. Weiss added that patients should never use cannabis as an alternative to standard cancer treatment, and clinicians should inform patients about the safe and effective use of cannabis as an adjunct to their cancer treatment plan.

Journal reference:

Weiss, M.C., et al. (2021) A Coala-T-Survey of Breast Cancer Patients’ Use of Cannabis Before, During and After Treatment. Cancer.