Beta Blockers Help Block Cancer Spread

Lung cancer patients live longer if taking beta blockers while receiving radiotherapy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Radiation is a common method to kill or shrink cancer cells. Lung cancer patients taking heart medication during radiotherapy may have better results than those not taking these drugs.

Researchers have recently found that patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) who took beta blockers while they were receiving radiotherapy lived longer on average than those who are not taking these common heart medications.

"Stay informed about how heart meds may help cancer treatment."

Daniel Gomez, MD, assistant professor at the department of radiation oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and his colleagues reviewed the progress and outcomes of 722 patients with NSCLC who had received radiotherapy as their main or first line of treatment.

Of these patients, 155 were taking beta blockers for other conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Beta blockers—sold under such brand names as Tenormin, Lopressor, Toprol-XL and Inderal—decrease the force and rate of heart contractions to lower blood pressure.

Investigators found that patients who were on these medications lived an average of 23.7 months compared to an average of 18.6 months to those who were not taking these medications.

Results were adjusted to account for other factors such as age, stage of the disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the use of aspirin and whether or not chemotherapy was given at the same time.

"Our results suggest that the use of beta blockers during radiotherapy may help to prevent the formation of metastases [tumors that have spread from the original cancer site to other parts of the body],” said Dr. Gomez, adding that metastasis is a major cause of death.

While beta blockers appeared to inhibit metastases, they did not appear to affect the primary tumor, according to the authors.

"Our findings agree with results from previous studies suggesting that beta blockers have a specific effect on the cascade of events that lead to metastases,” said Professor Zhongxing Liao, from the department of radiation oncology at MD Anderson.

Chronic stress conditions and prolonged exposure to stress hormones may be involved in the development of metastases. One of these stress hormones, norepinephrine, has been shown to stimulate the migration of tumor cells to other parts of the body. Researchers believe that beta blockers may play a role in inhibiting this process.

“Prospective studies are needed to investigate these findings further and to discover whether improved survival is affected by when and for how long patients need to take beta blockers,” said Dr. Gomez. “We are excited about using our study as a starting point for further investigations."

The study was published on January 8 in the cancer journal Annals of Oncology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 7, 2013
Last Updated:
January 8, 2013