WEDNESDAY, Jan. 9 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that
beta blockers, medications that are used to control blood pressure
and heart rhythms, may also help lung cancer patients live
The researchers found that patients with non-small-cell lung
cancer being treated with radiation lived 22 percent longer if they
were also taking these drugs.
"These findings were the first, to our knowledge, demonstrating a survival benefit associated with the use of beta blockers and radiation therapy for lung cancer," said lead researcher Dr. Daniel Gomez, an assistant professor in the department of radiation oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
"The results imply that there may be another mechanism, largely unexplored, that could potentially reduce the rates of tumor spread in patients with this very aggressive disease," he added.
The report was published Jan. 9 in the
Annals of Oncology.
For the study, Gomez's team compared the outcomes of more than
700 patients undergoing radiation therapy for lung cancer.
The investigators found that the 155 patients taking beta
blockers for heart problems lived an average of almost two years,
compared with an average of 18.6 months for patients not taking
The findings held even after adjusting for other factors such as
age, stage of the disease, whether or not chemotherapy was given at
the same time, presence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
and aspirin use, the researchers noted.
Beta blockers also improved survival without the disease
spreading to other parts of the body and survival without the
disease recurring, they added.
Beta blockers, however, made no difference in the length of
survival without the disease progressing in the part of the lungs
where it started, the study authors pointed out.
How beta blockers might slow cancer's spread isn't known.
However, the researchers speculate that these drugs may work by
suppressing a hormone called norepinephrine, which is known to
promote the spread of cancer cells.
"Right now, we would not advocate that patients take beta blockers for this purpose, until these findings can be validated by prospective trials," Gomez said. "In addition, future studies will help us to understand if the mechanism that we propose is correct, and thus if beta blockers are indeed directly affecting the aggressiveness of this cancer or if these findings are due to the activation or inhibition of another pathway."
For one expert, the study raises more questions than it
"It is unclear whether beta blockers need to be started before the cancer is found, or if they still have a utility once the diagnosis is made," said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
In addition, Horovitz wonders whether other drugs that block
hormones might serve the same purpose.
One thing is clear, however, he added. People should not start
taking beta blockers in hopes of preventing or controlling lung
cancer, he said.
Horovitz did say he thinks trials testing whether or not beta
blockers or other hormone-blocking drugs prevent the spread of lung
cancer should be done.
Although the study found a link between beta blocker use in
patients undergoing radiation therapy and increased non-small-cell
lung cancer survival, it did not prove cause-and-effect.
For more on lung cancer, visit the
U.S. National Cancer Institute.
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