What is Breast Cancer
Breast cancer, as the name suggests, is a type of cancer that develops in breast cells. Typically, the cancer forms in either the lobules (the glands that produce milk) or the ducts of the breast which are the pathways that bring the milk from the glands to the nipple. However, breast cancer cells can also appear in the fatty tissue as well as the fibrous connective tissue within the breast.
When cancer cells grow uncontrolled, they can often invade other healthy breast tissue, traveling to the lymph nodes under the arms. From there, the cancer cells can move to other parts of the body as the lymph nodes can act as a primary pathway for metastasis.
There are several types of breast cancer that are divided into two main categories: invasive and noninvasive / in situ. When cancer cells have spread from the breast ducts, lobules, or tissues to other parts of the breast or body, it is classified as invasive. Noninvasive or in situ cancer has not spread from the original tissue.
Types of Breast Cancer
These two categories are used to describe the most common types of breast cancer, which include:
- Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a noninvasive condition. With DCIS, the cancer cells are confined to the ducts in your breast and haven’t invaded the surrounding breast tissue.
- Lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) is cancer that grows in the milk-producing glands of your breast. Like DCIS, the cancer cells haven’t invaded the surrounding tissue.
- Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is the most common type of breast cancer. This type of breast cancer begins in your breast’s milk ducts and then invades nearby tissue in the breast. Once breast cancer has spread to the tissue outside your milk ducts, it can begin to spread to other nearby organs and tissue.
- Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) first develops in your breast’s lobules and has invaded nearby tissue.
Other, less common types of breast cancer include:
- Angiosarcoma is when breast cancer grows on the blood vessels or lymph vessels in the breast
- Triple-negative breast cancer is when a tumor that lacks estrogen and progesterone receptors as well as the HER2 is a protein that fuels breast cancer growth.
- Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) is when cells block the lymph nodes near the breast so the lymph vessels in the breast can’t drain properly. Instead of creating a tumor, IBC causes the breast to swell, become red, and feel warm, sometimes making the breast appear pitted and thick.
- Male breast cancer is the same as breast cancer in women with the same symptoms, only much more rare and is 100 times less common.
Stages of Breast Cancer
The five stages of breast cancer depend on various factors, including whether the cancer is invasive or noninvasive, how large the tumor is, whether the lymph nodes are involved, and if cancer has spread to nearby tissue or organs.
Stage 0 is DCIS with cancer cells remain confined to the ducts in the breast and have not spread into nearby tissue.
Stage 1 is divided into two stages:
- In stage 1A is when the primary tumor is 2 centimeters wide or less and the lymph nodes are not affected;
- In stage 1B is when the cancer is found in adjacent lymph nodes, and there is either no tumor in the breast, or the tumor is smaller than 2 cm.
Stage 2 is also divided into two stages:
- In stage 2A is when the tumor is smaller than 2 cm and has spread to one to three nearby lymph nodes, or is between 2 and 5 cm and hasn’t spread to any lymph nodes;
- In stage 2B the tumor is between 2 and 5 cm and has spread to one to three axillary (armpit) lymph nodes, or it’s larger than 5 cm and hasn’t spread to any lymph nodes.
Stage 3 is divided into three stages:
- In stage 3A cancer has spread to 4 – 9 axillary lymph nodes or has enlarged the internal mammary lymph nodes, with the primary tumor being any size. Or, tumors are greater than 5 cm and cancer has spread to 1–3 axillary lymph nodes or any breastbone nodes.
- In stage 3B a tumor has invaded the chest wall or skin and may or may not have invaded up to 9 lymph nodes.
- In stage 3C the breast cancer is found in 10 or more axillary lymph nodes, lymph nodes near the collarbone, or internal mammary nodes.
- Stage 4 is when the primary tumor is of any size and cancer has metastasized and has spread to nearby and distant lymph nodes as well as distant organs.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Different types of breast cancer can present with different symptoms, however many of the symptoms are similar. The most common of these include:
- A breast lump or tissue thickening that feels different from surrounding tissue and has developed recently
- Breast pain and/or swelling in all or part of the breast
- Changes to the appearance of the skin on your breasts including red, pitted skin over your entire breast often with peeling, scaling, or flaking of skin on the nipple or breast
- A nipple discharge other than breast milk or a bloody discharge from your nipple
- A sudden, unexplained change in the shape or size of your breast
- A newly inverted nipple
- A lump or swelling under your arm
Breast Cancer Medications & Treatments
The type of treatment is usually dependent on the type, stage, and severity of the breast cancer being treated.
Pharmaceutical / Surgical Interventions
Surgery is the most common treatment for breast cancer along with additional treatments such as chemotherapy. Surgery is designed to remove the breast cancer tissue and can be as non-invasive as simply removing the tumor (lumpectomy), to a full mastectomy in which either one or both, breasts are removed in their entirety. Chemotherapy is a type of drug treatment that targets and destroys cells with the hope of shrinking the tumor to make surgery less invasive. However, chemotherapy has many unwanted side effects, often destroying healthy cells and the immune symptoms in the process as well.
Radiation therapy and hormone therapy are some non-pharmaceutical treatments often used in conjunction with the above-mentioned interventions. During radiation therapy, high-powered beams of radiation that target and kill cancer cells. Because breast cancer is sensitive to hormones, hormone therapy that blocks the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone can be prescribed to slow or possibly stop tumor growth. Similarly, Herceptin (trastuzumab) can block the production of the HER2 protein that helps breast cancer cell growth.
CBD for Breast Cancer
Research & Scientific Evidence
Cannabidiol (CBD) research has found that it has the potential to have effectively treated and reduce both the development and growth of breast cancer cells in a variety of ways.
In 2011 in vivo study published in American Association for Cancer Research researchers investigated the effect of cannabinoids like CBD on reducing Id-1 expression in aggressive human breast cancers by using human breast cancer cell lines exposed to serum infused with THC, CBN, CBD, CBG, and CP55,940.
They found that CBD down-regulates Id-1 gene expression at the mRNA and protein level, reducing breast cancer cell invasion and metastasis, making it a low-toxicity and potentially effective treatment option for reducing tumor aggressiveness.
In another 2011 study published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics examined the manner in which CBD induces apoptosis (cellular suicide) and autophagy (removing dead and damaged cells) in breast cancer cells using human breast cancer cell lines treated with a CBD-infused medium.
They found that some of the molecular mechanisms with which CBD induces apoptosis and autophagy, including the inhibition of the survival of both estrogen receptor-positive and estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer cell lines without having any effect on healthy breast cells. Similarly, CBD induced autophagy is fully cytodestructive by causing endoplasmic reticulum stress, reducing mitochondrial membrane potential, and, ultimately, activating the intrinsic apoptotic pathway in breast cancer cells.
In a more recent 2015 study, the researchers investigated the inhibitory properties of CBD on the growth and metastatic properties of breast cancer cell lines using human breast cancer cell lines and exposing them to CBD.
They found that CBD inhibits breast cancer cell proliferation, migration, and invasion by modulating the signaling pathways responsible for it. They also found that CBD inhibits breast cancer growth, reducing tumor volume and weight both in vitro and in vivo. Similarly, CBD also showed to inhibit the metastasis of aggressive breast cancer cells by decreasing the secretion of the enzymes responsible for tissue turnover.
The media is full of celebrities like Olivia Newton-John and Melissa Etheridge claiming to use cannabinoids for their breast cancer. In addition, there are other stories of women like Rhonda Gossett who claim CBD oil has helped treat their breast cancer. However, most examples of people who claim to have treated their cancer used cannabis oil.
CBD as a Complementary Treatment
Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation produce a variety of unpleasant side effects such as nausea, loss of appetite, and eventual weight loss while breast cancer surgery and cancer itself can be painful. CBD has the ability to ease chemotherapy-induced pain, nausea, and poor appetite resulting from cancer and cancer treatments.
There is a lot of research focusing on the effects of CBD on breast cancer and the data shows that it has the potential to be an effective, non-toxic treatment that preserves healthy breast tissue. In addition to having several direct interactions on the ability of breast cancer cells to reproduce, grow, proliferate and metastasize, CBD can also help reduce many of the side effects of more traditional treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Always speak to your treating oncologist before using CBD as they can also monitor dosage, symptom severity, and other clinical parameters like drug interactions.