42% of breast cancer patients use cannabis, few tell their physicians, survey finds

While many breast cancer patients use cannabis to relieve pain and other symptoms, few discuss the drug with their physicians, according to survey findings published Oct. 12 in Cancer

Between Dec. 16, 2019, and Jan. 19, 2020, 612 breast cancer patients completed a 47-question online survey. 

Overall, 42 percent of participants said they had used some form of cannabis. Of those, 78 percent reported using it for pain relief, 70 percent for insomnia, 57 percent for anxiety, 51 percent for stress, and 46 percent for nausea and vomiting. Seventy-nine percent reported using it during treatment. 

Meanwhile, 39 percent of all participants said they had discussed cannabis with their physicians. 

Of the 306 participants who said they had sought information on medical cannabis, just 4 percent said they sought information from their physician. Most selected websites, a family  member or friend as the most helpful source of information. 

“They are not using it to get high, but to manage the side effects of breast cancer or the treatments for breast cancer,” Marisa Weiss, MD, lead study author, told NBC News. Dr. Weiss is the founder and CMO of breastcancer.org and an oncologist at Wynnewood, Pa.-based Lankenau Medical Center. 

While cannabis has been used for years to help alleviate symptoms for breast cancer patients, Dr. Weiss said it's important patients disclose that to their physicians. 

“Some of these products can interact with treatments they are taking, and there is a safety issue there,” she said. “We want to make sure they get relief from their symptoms without interfering with the treatments.”

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