The relationship between opiates and breast cancer has been focused on three important aspects. The first aspect has been what the use of opiates is with regard to cancer in general and breast cancer in particular. The second aspect of this relationship has been whether or not the use of opiates for specific functions with regard to cancer treatment endangers the lives of the patients by contributing to recurrence of cancer long after its successful treatment. The third aspect has been the exact mechanisms by which opiates produce the said effect in the body of patients and what should be done about it. All these aspects are addressed in this article in the sections that follow.
Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer among women in the world. Two reasons for this have been advanced. The first one is that breast cancer is generally associated with estrogen, a special type of hormone responsible for femininity. Since this hormone is predominantly found in women (sometimes in high levels), this makes them completely exposed to possible development of breast cancer. The second one arises from the observed trend of an increasing risk of breast cancer and age among women. There are several underlying reasons for this but the fact remains that with people in general living longer they get exposed to certain health conditions. For women, breast cancer is the common health condition that comes with age.
Opiates have been extensively used in the treatment of cancer as part of modern therapies. The use of opiates is in the form of drugs that are derived from morphine, a common type of plant that represents what opiates are, which is used as an extremely powerful painkiller for cancer patients. The exact mechanism by which opiates (in the form of morphine-based pain killers) works to relieve patients of pain is a complex process. But it suffices to say that the active chemical compound in opiates activates special cells within the nervous system of the patient leading to massive decline in pain sensations. This presents great relief to patients, particularly when one considers the intensity of cancer-induced pain which patients do experience.
There has been considerable concern about the relationship between opiates and cancer recurrence in patients. The concern has been based on the growing discovery that some patients who, in the course of their treatment for cancer used morphine-derived drugs as pain killers, showed signs of the disease recurring after some time. The argument has been that the opiates that are found in the drugs must be responsible for this observed phenomenon.
There are two important things that should be understood from this. The first one regards the exact use of opiates in cancer patients. In practice, opiates are used as pain killers on patients before other forms of therapy, such as surgery, are used. During such times, the drugs are usually administered in heavy doses as a way of dealing with the equally intense pain.
The second one regards the use of the drugs during times when the disease is still in its early stages of development. There have been a number of studies that have sought to demonstrate the exact effect of opiates on cancer cells. It has been shown, with mixed reactions, that opiates do show anti-cancer properties at times and that they can actually be used to inhibit the rate of growth of cancer cells. Although this is so, the efficacy, extent and possible mechanism by which this occurs remains a subject of research.
What has caught our attention is the increasing proof that indeed using opiates as pain killers in patients of breast cancer may contribute to the cancer occurring again in them later.
Ways of recurrence as a result of opiate use in breast cancer patients
There are several ways in which use of opiates as pain killers leads to recurrence of breast cancer in patients. Basically, this ability is understood by the role that the compound plays in the processes of metastasis and angiogenesis. These two processes are critical for the growth and development of cancer. Through angiogenesis, cancer cells are able to derive their own supply of blood from the existing circulatory system, thus fueling their own growth. Similarly, through metastasis, cancer cells are able to spread to other parts of the body via the circulatory system.
Opiates have been found to enhance angiogenesis by their effect on the immune system. Naturally, the body produces special hormones that work to prevent possible development of cancer cells. Use of opiates has been found to suppress the production of the hormones, thus weakening the immune system and exposing a patient to possible recurrence of breast cancer long after treatment.
Further, it has been found that opiates encourage cancer cells to spread through the body long after treatment. What usually happens is that a few cancer cells may be circulating in the body after treatment of breast cancer. Opiates do have a direct effect on these cells in the body. It is this effect that may encourage the cells to spread and redevelop into new cancer growth over eth course of time.
Use of opiates as part of the standard therapies used to treat cancer is set to continue. On the other hand, fears about its association with recurrence of breast cancer will linger. What this calls for is careful and judicious use of the right therapies in treating cancer. AWAREmed Health and Wellness Resource Center has been known as a leading centre for cancer treatment and management for a long time. We run a range of highly specialized services in cancer diagnosis, treatment and overall care of patients. Our focus is on using alternative therapies to boost the effectiveness of other methods used in standard therapies. The result of this is your overall recovery and wellness within the shortest time possible.