A recent study found that a common generic heart medication can prolong the life of ovarian cancer patients for more than four years.
Researchers found that some beta-blockers — commonly used to treat high blood pressure or other heart conditions — inhibit specific stress pathways responsible for the growth of cancerous tumors. The study was published in the journal Cancer.
The findings are the result of a retroactive analysis of the medical records of 1,423 women with ovarian cancer treated with the generic heart medication for medical concerns not related to their cancer. Of the 1,423 women undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, 269 received beta-blockers. Those who received any beta-blockers survived, on average, six months longer than others. Those who received nonselective beta-blockers had survival rates of more than four years longer.
“The study demonstrated an impressive survival advantage in ovarian cancer patients taking nonselective beta-blockers,” says Dr. Afshin Bahador, a gynecologic oncologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
“This survival advantage needs to be corroborated in ongoing clinical trials before these beta-blockers can be regularly used in the treatment of ovarian cancer,” says Dr. Bahador. “However, for the time being, if my patient has hypertension and is already on antihypertensive therapy, I would discuss the option of switching to a nonselective beta-blocker with her primary care physician.”
The relationship between stress and cancer
Beta-blockers work by inhibiting the effects of the stress hormone epinephrine, also called adrenaline, which causes your heart to beat faster and with greater force. Experts agree that stress promotes the growth of ovarian and other cancers and hope to learn more about the role beta-blockers might play in the treatment of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most deadly cancer among women. According to the American Cancer Society, close to 22,440 cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in this year alone and about 14,080 American women die from the disease each year.
“This study adds to an already robust body of literature demonstrating the relationship between stress and cancer,” says Dr. Bahador. “It is well-established that stress, through different biochemical pathways, not only directly promotes the growth of cancer, but also compromises our ability to fight cancer by suppressing our immune system.”
Dr. Bahador emphasizes the importance of stress management with his cancer patients, including the use of complementary practices such as meditation, mindfulness, guided imagery, acupuncture and exercise.
“If a clinical benefit is proven in ongoing prospective trials of nonselective beta-blockers, these drugs may very well also be incorporated in the treatment of many different cancers,” he says.