Stress Speeds, Beta-Blockers Slow Melanoma Growth

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Malignant melanoma spread can be slowed by beta-blockers according to new research. The finding, from Ohio State University scientists, offers new hope for prolonging the lives of patients with advanced malignant melanoma.

The study, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity is the result of two years of research linking stress hormones to diseases such as cancer. The current study shows that the stress hormone, norepinephrine produces enzymes that cause blood vessels to grow in melanoma tumors, speeding the growth and spread of tumors.

The researchers pinpointed three enzymes produced by the stress hormone norepinephrine - vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, Interleukin-6 and Interleukin-8. Of the three, they discovered that Interleukin- 6 increased by 2000 percent in response to the stress hormone norepinephrine. All three of the enzymes showed increased activity that contributed to the speed of melanoma growth.

According to Eric V. Yang, a research scientist at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research (IBMR), "What this tells us is that stress might have a worse effect on melanoma that is in a very aggressive or advanced stage, and that one marker for that might be increased levels of IL-6."


When the scientists added beta-blockers that were able to block receptors in the cancerous melanoma cells, they found that beta-blockers slowed the spread of melanoma by significantly reducing enzyme production.

Two studies, performed prior to the current research also showed that norepinephrine stimulated the progressions of multiple myeloma and cancer of the nose and throat.

The study authors believe more aggressive forms of cancer, such as melanoma, are particularly susceptible to stress, speeding cancer's progression.

The current study is very important for understanding how cancer spreads. Stress hormones can play a role in speeding melanoma growth. We now know that eliminating stress hormones, through medications that block key enzymes, might slow cancer. The results of the current research could extend the lives of those diagnosed with melanoma, by the simple addition of commonly prescribed beta-blockers.