Heart drug may cut cancer risks finds study

In collaboration with the Press Association

People using a class of heart drug known as ACE-inhibitors to lower their blood pressure have "significantly" reduced risks of pancreatic, bowel and oesophageal cancers, researchers have said.

The research was carried out by the Overton Brooks Veterans Administration Medical Centre in the US and was presented at the conference Digestive Disease Week 2006.

Medical histories of almost 500,000 US armed forces veterans were used in the study, which compared cancer rates against age, race, tobacco use and other health indicators.

ACE-inhibitors seemed to have the most significant effect on oesophageal cancer, reducing risks by 55 per cent compared to non-users.

The study also suggested that the drugs reduced the incidence of pancreatic cancers by 48 per cent and colon cancer by 47 per cent.

Researchers believe the potential benefit of ACE inhibitors against cancer may be because they can stop new blood vessel growth.

The team thinks the drugs might work by acting on a protein called VEGF, which is believed to play a significant role in the growth and reproduction of tumours.

"This is a large and exciting study that could point to new ways to prevent cancer in the future. It shows a substantial reduction in risk for certain types of cancers in patients taking these blood pressure drugs," said Dr Kat Arney of Cancer Research UK.

"The drugs may work by blocking the growth of blood vessels that feed tumours, which is an active area of cancer research at the moment.

"But ACE inhibitors are prescription medicines, and can have side effects in some people. We don't know enough about their safety and effectiveness in cancer prevention at the moment, so more laboratory and clinical studies are needed," she added.

While follow-up work is needed to reveal the mechanisms involved, scientists said they believe that ACE-inhibitors block production of a protein important to tumour growth.