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Common heart pill could help cancer patients live longer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Beta blockers could help treat cancer

A commonly used class of heart medications known as beta-blockers is shown in a first study to improve ovarian cancer survival. The medications block tumor growth and spread by interfering with the stress pathway involved with cancer metastasis.


Beta blockers have been shown in the past to slow cancer growth. University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center investigators for this new study suggest the heart medications could be used to help treat various types of cancer.

Stress mechanism fuels cancer

The finding is published in the journal CANCER and is the result of a retrospective analysis of women treated for ovarian cancer between 2000 and 2010. Included in the study were 1,425 women. Study authors compared ovarian cancer survival rates between women who took beta-blockers and those who did not during chemotherapy treatment.

The analysis showed women who received beta-blockers in addition to chemotherapy for epithelial ovarian, primary peritoneal, or fallopian tube cancers lived longer than those not taking the inexpensive, generic drugs that are used to preserve heart function after a heart attack, treat high blood pressure, slow the heart rate and help control irregular heart beat.

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The analysis found women receiving nonselective beta-b.lockers survived ovarian cancer 94.9 months versus 38 months for those receiving beta-1–adrenergic receptor selective agents.

Women with ovarian cancer receiving any type of beta blocker survived 47.8 months versus 42 months for nonusers.

Anil Sood, M.D., professor in Gynecologic Medical Oncology and Cancer Biology at MD Anderson explains: "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. Our research has shown that the same stress mechanisms impact ovarian cancer progression, so these drugs could play a new role in cancer treatment."

The drugs are also known to help reduce stress that has been shown to fuel cancer growth. Sood says more studies are needed to find out which patients would benefit from beta blocker therapy that in the future could become a mainstay for cancer treatment.


Watkins, J. L., Thaker, P. H., Nick, A. M., Ramondetta, L. M., Kumar, S., Urbauer, D. L., Matsuo, K., Squires, K. C., Coleman, R. L., Lutgendorf, S. K., Ramirez, P. T. and Sood, A. K. (2015), Clinical impact of selective and nonselective beta-blockers on survival in patients with ovarian cancer. Cancer. doi: 10.1002/cncr.29392