This Common Blood Pressure Drug Improves Ovarian Cancer Survival

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Some interesting news came out of a study done at MD Anderson Cancer Center, where a common high blood pressure medication was shown to improve survival in those with ovarian cancer. In addition to standard treatment with surgery and chemotherapy, women taking propranolol (Inderal) or other similar medications lived longer.
How do heart meds help with ovarian cancer?

  1. Adrenergic receptors: The two types are alpha or beta and when activated, result in growth and progression of ovarian cancer.
  2. Beta receptors: The beta adrenergic receptors respond to the substances norepinephrine or epinephrine (adrenaline) usually causing excitatory things like high heart rate and stronger heart contractions.
  3. Where are they found? Beta receptors are found in many places on the heart, in the smooth muscle of the bladder, in blood vessels to the heart and muscles, and so on.
  4. Beta blocker medications: There are two kinds of beta blockers some we call selective beta blockers (metoprolol, atenolol) and some we call non-selective beta blockers.
  5. Non-selective beta blockers: These block both types of beta receptors. Common options are propranolol (Inderal), nadolol (Corgard), and sotalol (Betapace). The survival benefit is seen with these non-selective beta blockers.
  6. Propranolol and cancer. Propranolol blocks the production of a protein which plays a role in forming new blood vessels—which is how cancer cells feed their blood supply and growth.  
  7. Women with ovarian cancer (of all stages) had better overall survival if they were taking non selective beta blockers like propranolol.
  8. In fact, their median survival was 94.9 months compared to 42 months. That’s a big deal.
  9. This was true even though the women with ovarian cancer taking non-selective beta blockers presented at higher stage of disease, weighed more, and were more likely to have high blood pressure.
  10. More to come. There are currently two trials going on right now evaluating the combination of chemotherapy and propranolol on cancer biology.

For a cheap, safe medication this is exciting news.
Dr O.

Drugs featured in this story

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