The Link Between Opioids, Breast Cancer & Mental Health

HerSUPPZ Featured Favorites, Guest Blog, Health & Wellness, Her Monthly Awareness, Her Wellness, Jane Sandwood, May, October Leave a Comment

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The University of Virginia Health System (UVHS) found that women diagnosed with breast cancer in addition to anxiety, depression are more likely to use opioids. These findings also showed these women are more likely to have a shorter lifespan.

About one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. There are around 276,480 new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2020 in the U.S. Breast cancer is more common in females over 50. The average diagnosis being obtained between the ages of 55 and 64.

Important Findings Related to Opioid Use

Scientists reviewed over 10,000 breast cancer cases from a national cancer database. This database contains information on care provided to Medicare beneficiaries who have breast cancer. These women had all been diagnosed with either Stage I, II or II  breast cancer. The researchers divided the women into two groups: those with mental conditions and those without.

They concluded…

“Opioid use is higher in women with breast cancer who suffer from mental health comorbidities and remains a significant problem. Mental health comorbidities also contribute to reduced survival in these women.”

The researchers called for greater collaborative care in the management of mental illness in patients with breast cancer. This approach could help improve symptoms, help motivate women to stick to their treatment, and help them recover from mental conditions. 

Complementary Treatment Should Be Recommended

Scientists also pointed out that complementary treatments for pain should be recommended to reduce or avoid the reliance upon opioids. A few treatments proven to be successful in quelling pain and battling stress are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This, as well as acupuncture and acupressure, have been proven helpful. A study at Columbia University Medical Center found that acupuncture helps significantly with joint pain and stiffness. Massage and physical therapy can also be of aid. 

Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

The recommendation of CBT for pain points to the powerful connection between mental and physical well-being. Many studies have shown that alternative and/or holistic therapies can help reduce stress and mental anguish during breast cancer recovery. In a study published in Psycho-Oncology, it was found that restorative classes helped women with breast cancer with depression as well as spirituality. The latter (feelings of spiritual fulfillment) help those feel more supported, especially if they take part in spiritual worship with others.

For some, spirituality is more a matter of individual pursuit. Thus, they might prefer using a more non-traditional way to obtain clarity or self-awareness. In the end, psychological, spiritual, or philosophical pursuits can work well to boost wellness and happiness. This depends on the individual living with a condition like breast cancer.

The Use Of Opiate-Free Anesthesia

Women who need to undergo breast cancer surgery should also inquire about the possible use of opiate-free anesthesia. Research has shown those who receive this type of anesthesia require less medication after surgery. “Patients require fewer analgesics 24 hours after non-opiate anesthesia than after opiate anesthesia,” said the researchers.

Women with breast cancer who also have mental conditions are more likely to use opioids. Therefore it is extremely important for health professionals to discuss this with their patients. The use of natural yet effective options should be presented. Acupuncture, acupressure, yoga, and CBT are just a few remedies that can be introduced. The right treatment or is very unique to the individual and should be discussed by doctor and patient.

About the author

Jane Sandwood is a professional freelance writer and content manager with over 10 years’ experience across many fields. Her interests are mostly related to fitness and nutrition. Click here for more articles by Jane Sandwood.

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