In a controlled study Dr Des Powe, a Senior Healthcare Research Scientist at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust’s Queen’s Medical Centre, and his collaborators found that the group of patients treated with beta-blockers showed a significant reduction in metastasis (spread of cancer to a secondary location) and up to 71 per cent reduced risk of dying.
The scientists believe that they are the first in the world to have investigated the effect of beta-blockers in breast cancer patients.
Beta-blockers are traditionally used to lessen the risk of strokes and heart problems by reducing blood pressure and the amount of work the heart does. They are also used to reduce anxiety symptoms and help prevent migraines.
This new finding may assist breast treatment in two ways, say the researchers. It appears to slow down tumour growth and invasion and could be used to target those patients who have an increased risk of developing secondary cancers.
In collaboration with Professor Frank Entschladen’s group at Witten University, Germany, Dr Powe looked at three groups of breast cancer patients: those who were already being treated for hypertension (high blood pressure) by beta-blockers, those whose hypertension was treated by other medications, and those who did not suffer from hypertension and were therefore not taking any treatment for it.
Forty-three of the 466 patients were already taking beta-blockers and in this group there were significant reductions in both distant metastasis and local recurrence. They also had a 71 per cent reduced risk of dying from breast cancer compared with the other groups.
Dr Powe is today (26 March 2010) addressing the international seventh European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona where he will present his findings.
Dr Powe said: “We are very encouraged by these first results which have already shown that by using a well-established, safe, and cost-effective drug, there appears to be potential for improving targeted therapy in breast cancer.
“Our first study is relatively small and needs validating in a larger patient group. We will be looking for funding and collaborators to test the effectiveness of beta-blocker treatment on patients diagnosed with breast cancer.”
Beta-blocker drugs bind to a specific kind of receptor located on breast cancer cells to prevent certain stress hormones from stimulating and activating them. The researchers say that their results suggest this effect appears due to beta-blockers rather than a protective effect of hypertension per se.
Dr Powe added: “Clinical trials are needed to determine the effective dose and whether beta-blockers can be given as a supplementary therapy to patients undergoing treatment for existing breast cancer.”