Beta blockers may reduce spread of breast cancer

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In a study conducted by Dr. Des Powe and colleagues at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, England and Germany’s Witten University, breast cancer patients treated with beta blockers—medication used to reduce blood pressure by limiting the effects of the hormone epinephrine—had higher survival rates and lower levels of metastatis than patients not given the drugs. Of 466 breast cancer patients studied, 46 were taking beta blockers to treat hypertension, (while others did not suffer from hypertension or were using other treatments for the condition). Powe and colleagues found that patients taking beta blockers had a 71% lower risk of death from breast cancer compared to those not taking the medication.

Earlier lab research has shown that beta blockers can slow the development of cancerous cells by limiting the effects of stress hormones. Powe and colleagues set out to test those findings in a clinical setting. The fact that only patients treating high blood pressure with beta blockers, and not those using other forms of treatment, showed improved cancer outcomes suggests that it is the beta blockers, and not the hypertension, providing a protective effect, the researchers say.

Powe and fellow researchers emphasize that the results of this small study, presented today at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona, are preliminary and that future research is needed to confirm these promising findings. Yet, should future inquiries yield similar results, it could mean a significant change in breast cancer treatment protocols: introducing beta blockers into treatment programs could potentially improve breast cancer patient outcomes, the researchers say, by both slowing the growth of tumors and limiting the cancer’s spread to other parts of the body.