Women who take beta-blockers for high blood pressure and are diagnosed with breast cancer may have better outcomes than women who do not take beta-blockers, according to findings from two recent studies. Results from both studies were recently published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Beta-blockers are a class of drugs used to treat heart conditions and high blood pressure. Studies have indicated that beta-blockers may help control growth and spread of breast cancer, possibly due to their ability to control stress hormones. Two current studies have further investigated this association.
One study, conducted by researchers from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, reviewed 1,413 patients with breast cancer who had been treated with neoadjuvant chemotherapy (chemotherapy prior to surgery) between 1995 and 2007. Outcomes including complete response, relapse-free survival, and overall survival of those taking beta-blockers were compared with outcomes of those not taking beta-blockers.
Of the participants, 102 used beta-blockers. Rates of complete response among those using beta-blockers were not significantly different from complete response rates among non beta-blocker users. Beta-blockers use, however, was associated with significantly better relapse-free survival when the researchers accounted for age, race, disease stage and grade, receptor status, lymph node involvement, and other factors affecting disease outcome. Overall survival was not significantly improved among beta-blocker users. Patients diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer who took beta-blockers had improved relapse-free survival but, like other patients, not significantly improved overall survival.
Another study of beta-blockers and breast cancer survival was conducted by researchers from Ireland. Women diagnosed with Stage I to IV breast cancer between 2001 and 2006 were identified in a national cancer registry. Women who took beta-blockers in the year before they were diagnosed were matched and compared with women not taking beta-blockers. Two types of beta-blockers with different mechanisms were evaluated, propranolol and atenolol. The researchers assessed risk of tumor progression and spread and time to death from cancer.
Patients who used the beta-blocker propranolol had a significantly lower rate of death from breast cancer than their counterparts who didn’t used beta-blockers (9% versus 22%, respectively). Atenolol, however, was not associated with any improved outcomes.
These two studies suggest that beta-blockers could possibly improve outcomes among women with breast cancer, including those with difficult-to-treat triple-negative disease. However, it is far too early and beta blocker use should not be administered to women with breast cancer at this time until further research is done.
Melhem-Bertrandt A, Chavez-MacGregor M, Lei X, et al. Beta-blocker use is associated with improved relapse-free survival in patients with triple-negative breast cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology [early online publication]. May 31, 2011.
Barron TI, Connolly RM, Sharp L, et al. Beta blockers and breast cancer mortality: a population-based study. Journal of Clinical Oncology [early online publication]. May 31, 2011.