Beta-Blocker Seems to Reduce Risk of Metastatic Spread

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A study found that women diagnosed with breast cancer who also were taking a beta-blocker high blood pressure medicine were much less likely to develop metastatic breast cancer (cancer that has spread to parts of the body away from the breast) or to die from breast cancer compared to women who weren't taking a beta-blocker. These results were presented at the 2010 European Breast Cancer Conference.

Beta-blockers treat high blood pressure by blocking beta receptors. Blocking beta receptors blocks the effect of the hormone epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, on the body. Beta receptors are in many tissues, including blood vessels, the heart, and the lungs. Some common beta-blockers used to treat high blood pressure are:

  • propranolol (brand name: Inderal LA)
  • metoprolol (brand names: Lopressor, Toprol XL)
  • atenolol (brand name: Tenormin)
  • carvedilol (brand name: Coreg)
  • nadolol (brand name: Corgard)
  • nebivolol (brand name: Bystolic)

Other research has shown that a build-up of beta receptors in breast cancer cells is associated with the growth and spread of breast cancer. Beta-blockers can reduce the effect of this increase in beta receptors.

So doctors wondered if beta-blockers might improve breast cancer prognosis.

In this study, researchers looked at the medical records of 466 women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Some of the women were taking blood pressure medicine for at least 1 year before being diagnosed with breast cancer:

  • 43 women were taking a beta-blocker blood pressure medicine
  • 49 women were taking a blood pressure medicine that wasn't a beta-blocker
  • 387 women weren't taking any blood pressure medication

All the women had similar breast cancer treatment plans, including chemotherapy after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence).

The women were followed for about 10 years.

Compared to women who weren't treated for high blood pressure or women who took a high blood pressure medicine that wasn't a beta-blocker, women who took a beta blocker were:

  • 57% less likely to develop metastatic breast cancer
  • much less likely to have the breast cancer come back in the breast area where the original breast cancer was (local recurrence)
  • 71% less likely to die from breast cancer

While these results seem promising, it's important to remember that the women in this study who were taking a beta-blocker had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and were taking the beta-blocker before being diagnosed with breast cancer. They weren't given a beta-blocker as part of the study. So while the results suggest a strong association between beta-blockers and better breast cancer prognosis, they don't prove that beta-blockers are a good breast cancer treatment. More research is needed to see if beta-blockers actually improve outcomes for some women.

Stay tuned to Research News for the latest results on better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat breast cancer.

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