During this month’s breast cancer awareness campaign, an investigation conducted by UK cancer research scientists presented early results of whether beta-blockers control the spread of breast cancer and can improve survival to The Royal Society of Medicine.

Beta-blockers are generally used for the treatment of high blood pressure (hypertension) and anxiety. Cancer Research UK recently funded Dr Des Powe from the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, to investigate whether cancer recurrence is lower and survival longer in women taking beta-blockers prior or during their breast cancer treatment. The investigation is carried out in collaboration with scientists from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Germany.

Last year, the Oncotarget published the first ever study of beta blockers and breast cancer, which revealed that breast cancer patients who took beta blockers before their surgery had a lower risk of dying several years following treatment. The study was carried out on 466 participants.

Powe based and continued his research on early findings in the laboratory that demonstrated a biological mechanism, which can prevent the movement of cells and stops the spread of cancer with beta-blockers.

Metastatic breast cancer accounts for the highest cause of death from the disease with approximately 30% of all breast cancers metastasizing, accounting for up to 90% of all breast cancer deaths. Finding new and effective options to stop the mestatasis of cancer cells to other body parts is therefore a vital priority. (Metastatic breast cancer is one that spreads to other parts of the body).

Dr Des Powe explained:

“Cancer can be thought of as having two distinct phases – before and after the disease has spread. Many women will be successfully treated for their initial breast tumor but in some, the original tumor leaves a legacy – a daughter of the primary cancer. This means cells leave the original tumor and move around the body in a process called metastasis.

It is absolutely crucial to conquer cancer spread if we are to really improve breast cancer survival as this problem causes nearly all deaths from the disease. So it’s very exciting that we have been funded by Cancer Research UK to take this work further and see whether beta-blockers really do improve survival in a large population of breast cancer patients. This study will be sufficiently large to determine whether we should progress to clinical trials and identify which type of beta-blockers have the strongest effect.”

Senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, Dr Julie Sharp added:

“As beta-blockers are already a known drug this could be a very interesting development, which has the potential to save a large number of lives and we hope to have to see study results within the next year.”

Written by Petra Rattue