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Perceived Risks and Benefits of Cannabis Use among Cancer Patients: Preliminary Results from a Survey of Patients within an NCI-Designated Cancer Center

Nicolas Hernandez-Ortega
University of Miami

Co-Authors: Denise C. Vidot1, Maria Hidalgo1, Michaela Larson1, Jessica Islam2, Marlene Camacho-Rivera3, Claudia Martinez1, Frank J. Penedo1
1University of Miami 2Moffitt Cancer Center 3SUNY Downstate Medical Center

Cancer is a qualifying condition for the medical authorization of cannabis use in Florida; however, previous exposure, sociodemographic variables, and stigmas foster variable acceptance among physicians and patients. The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center (SCCC) catchment area serves over 6 million residents of diverse ethnic/racial backgrounds with broad cancer disparities and barriers to healthcare access. The purpose of this study was to examine the perceived risks and benefits of cannabis use among cancer patients in the SCCC catchment area.

A redcap-based questionnaire was administered to patients over 18 at SCCC classified as being within 5 years of initial cancer treatment. The questionnaire was created in collaboration with 11 NCI-designated cancer centers to obtain a harmonized set of questions detailing demographics, cancer site and treatment history, and cannabis use. A preliminary analysis of responses from October 2021 – January 2023, was conducted using SAS to obtain the frequencies of perceived risks and benefits associated with cannabis use before, during and after any cancer treatment.

The patient-sample surveyed (n=266) held a mean age of 47.5 years with 36.6% in active treatment and yielded varying prevalence of cancer type; the most common were breast (14.9%), prostate (6.5%), leukemia (6.2%) and lymphoma (6.2%). Benefits for cannabis use were reported in 75.2% of surveyed patients, noting pain management, stress relief, side effect management, and increased appetite as net benefits for cannabis use. About a third of patients noted cannabis use for stress relief (33.9%) and pain relief (30.4%). Among patients who experienced symptom improvement (n=115), 80.2% noted moderate to major improvements in symptom management. Perceived risks for cannabis use were prevalent among 58.2% of surveyed patients, noting daytime somnolence, headaches and a difficulty concentrating.

Preliminary results indicate that the majority of cancer patients who use cannabis report benefits and symptom improvement and that about 58% report side effects as perceived risks. Future studies should examine the risks and benefits via prospective designs. In the meantime, education programs may consider including potential mitigation for daytime somnolence, headaches and difficulty concentrating to be inclusive of potential outcomes of cannabis use.

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