Beta-blockers could 'improve breast cancer survival'

In collaboration with Adfero

The risk of cancer spreading in patients with breast tumours can be lowered with the use of beta-blockers, research presented at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona suggests.

Both a reduction in cancer spread and improved survival rate were observed in a group of patients treated with beta-blockers by a team led by Dr Des Powe, a senior healthcare research scientist at Nottingham University Hospital NHS Trust's Queen's Medical Centre.

Dr Powe, who was working in conjunction with a group headed by Professor Frank Entschladen at Witten University in Germany, set out to confirm, in clinical research, laboratory findings which show beta-blockers work against certain types of cancer.

For the purposes of the investigation, three groups of breast cancer patients were assessed: those being treated for hypertension with beta-blockers; those who were being treated for hypertension with other medications; and those who were unaffected by hypertension and so were not taking any treatment.

Significant reductions in cancer spreading to other parts of the body and of recurrence in the original area were recorded in those already taking beta-blockers, alongside a 71 per cent decreased risk of death.

According to Dr Powe, the results can be attributed to the effects of the beta-blockers rather than to any benefits derived from the patient's hypertension.

"If that had been the case, we would have seen similar survival benefits in patients receiving other forms of treatment for hypertension," he confirmed.

"But we did not. It is reasonable to speculate, therefore, that some non-hypertensive women with breast cancer will respond favourably to beta-blocker treatment, though doses and side effects would need to be investigated in clinical trials. We also need to look at whether beta-blockers could be given as a supplementary therapy with existing breast cancer treatment."

It is hoped the findings will lead to improved treatment to help reduce the growth of tumours and for those with a heightened risk of developing secondary cancers.

Dr Laura Bell, Cancer Research UK's science information officer, said: "This early study only involved a small number of people, but the findings are particularly interesting because the research involves a cheap and well-known drug which is already used by millions of people.

"If further trials can show that beta-blockers are beneficial in breast cancer, this could provide a safe and cost-effective additional treatment option for people with the disease."

References

  • D.G. Powe, Beta-blocker treatment is associated with a reduction in tumour metastasis and an improvement in specific survival in patients with breast cancer, European Journal of Cancer Supplements Volume 8, No.3, March 2010