A study recently published in the journal Cancer revealed that beta-blocker agents can increase the survival rate in ovarian cancer patients. The study was led by researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Washington University School of Medicine, and is entitled “Clinical impact of selective and nonselective beta-blockers on survival in patients with ovarian cancer.”
Ovarian cancer is responsible for around 3% of the cancer diagnoses in women, and it causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Patients may experience pelvic or abdominal pain, bloating, urinary symptoms and trouble eating or feeling full quickly. A woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer during her lifetime is 1 in 75. It is estimated that in 2015, 14,180 women will die from ovarian cancer in the United States.
Beta-blocker agents are drugs able to reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow. They act by blocking the effects of a hormone called epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. It has been previously suggested that a sustained activation of epinephrine/norepinephrine responding cells promotes ovarian cancer growth and metastasis (cancer spread).
Based on this possibility, researchers have investigated the impact of using beta-blockers on the clinical outcome of women with epithelial ovarian, primary peritoneal, or fallopian tube cancers (collectively referred to as epithelial ovarian cancer).
The team conducted a retrospective analysis of data from 1,425 women (median age of 63 years) with a confirmed diagnosis of epithelial ovarian cancer treated between 2000 and 2010, and compared the results between patients under beta-blocker therapy during chemotherapy (269 patients) and those undergoing chemotherapy without the use of beta-blockers. Beta-blockers were prescribed in patients experiencing hypertension and arrhythmia, or who have suffered a myocardial infarction.
Researchers found that patients under beta-blocker therapy had a median overall survival of 47.8 months in comparison to 42 months in patients not receiving beta-blockers. Among the patients receiving beta-blockers, the median overall survival was found to be of 94.9 months for patients under nonselective beta-blockers therapy and of 38 months for patients receiving specific beta-1–adrenergic receptor selective agents. Interestingly, patients under nonselective beta-blockers therapy were found to have an improved overall survival in comparison to patients under no beta-blocker treatment despite their comorbidities, namely hypertension, increased average body mass index and more advanced disease stage.
“Beta-blockers treat a variety of conditions, such as heart disease, high-blood pressure, glaucoma and migraines. They target a receptor protein in heart muscle that causes the heart to beat harder and faster when activated by stress hormones,” explained the study’s senior author Dr. Anil Sood in a press release. “Our research has shown that the same stress mechanisms impact ovarian cancer progression, so these drugs could play a new role in cancer treatment.”
In conclusion, the research team showed for the first-time that the use of nonselective beta-blockers in patients with epithelial ovarian cancer is linked to a longer overall survival, and suggest that these findings may offer new therapeutic strategies for this patient population. The authors believe that beta-blockers might block the effects of stress pathways important for tumor growth and spread.
One ongoing clinical trial led by The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is currently evaluating the combination of chemotherapy and a nonselective beta-blocker (propranolol) in patients newly diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer. The team believes that this trial is important for the design and development of future clinical trials assessing the impact of nonselective beta-blockers on patient outcome, and that it “builds on the mounting evidence that beta-blockers may become a key treatment component for many patients in the future,” concluded Dr. Sood.