The following article features coverage from the 2019 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Click here to read more of Oncology Nurse Advisor‘s conference coverage.

A study looking at the symptom profile of breast cancer patients seeking medical cannabis has found that women with nonmetastatic and metastatic breast cancer sought medical cannabis for symptomatic management of pain, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and anorexia. Researchers reviewed Pennsylvania’s new medical marijuana program and found that patients with breast cancer seeking medical cannabis reported an average of 3 symptoms. The study findings, which were presented at the 2019 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, showed that pain was often experienced along with insomnia and anxiety.

The researchers noted that there is little published data on the role of medical cannabis among patients with breast cancer. Cancer was 1 of 17 medical conditions in the 2018 launch of Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Program and so the researchers wanted to find out what the symptoms were that patients with breast cancer were hoping to treat with medical cannabis.

The study included 54 cancer patients and 31 patients had breast cancer (22 had nonmetastatic disease and 9 had metastatic disease). There were significant age differences among the patients, ranging from 26 years to 86 years (median age, 64). The study showed 16 of the 22 (73%) women with nonmetastatic disease chose cannabis for pain.  Among these 16 women, 25% (4 patients) developed chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) and 19% (3 patients) experienced exacerbation of preexisting muscle/joint pain from hormonal therapy.

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Among the 22 patients with nonmetastatic breast cancer, 11 (50%) had insomnia and 10 (45%) had anxiety, and 8 women reported they were suffering from both insomnia and anxiety. One of the 22 women reported nausea, and 3 women reported they were recreational users who wanted to upgrade to medical-grade products.

Among the 9 patients with metastatic breast cancer, 8 (89%) sought medical cannabis for cancer pain and 8 (89%) sought it for anxiety.  Three women (33%) wanted the medical cannabis for insomnia; the same number of women wanted it for anorexia (33%) and nausea (33%). Overall, the researchers found that patients had an average of 3 symptoms, and approximately 50% of patients with pain expressed concern over opioid use and wanted to avoid its use.


Hibbs J, Weiss M, Ali Z, et al. Symptom profile of breast cancer patients seeking medical cannabis in Pennsylvania’s new medical marijuana program. Poster presentation at: 2019 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium; December 10-14, 2019; San Antonio, TX. Abstract P5-09-02.