Beta blockers may be a new low-cost approach to cancer. A study by researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has found taking this generic heart medication may result in an improvement in survival among patients with epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC).

In addition, the survival benefit was shown to be greatest among those prescribed first-generation nonselective beta-blockers.

“We were not sure what we would find. The preclinical studies point to beta-adrenergic receptors 2 and 3 being particularly important for tumor growth and metastasis,” said principal study investigator Anil Sood, MD, who is a professor in gynecologic medical oncology and reproductive medicine as well as cancer biology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.

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Dr. Sood and colleagues conducted a multi-institutional retrospective analysis of the medical records of 1,425 women with ovarian cancer treated between 2000 and 2010.1

The researchers compared overall survival among patients with documented beta-blocker use during chemotherapy and those without. Among the 269 patients who received beta-blockers, 193 (71.7%) received beta-1-adrenergic receptor selective agents (SBBs) and the remaining patients received nonselective beta antagonists (NSBBs).

The median age of the patients was 63 years (range: 21 to 93 years). The primary indication for beta-blocker use was hypertension. However, some patients were prescribed beta-blockers for arrhythmias and post-myocardial infarction management.

The researchers found that for patients receiving any beta-blocker, the median overall survival was 47.8 months compared to 42 months for nonusers.

However, there were significant differences between the two classes of beta-blockers. The median overall survival based on beta-blocker receptor selectivity was 94.9 months for those receiving NSBBs compared to only 38 months for those receiving SBBs.

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“The more selective blockers were not related to better clinical outcomes and it was the broad or non-specific beta-blockers that were related to better outcomes,” Dr. Sood told Cancer Therapy Advisor.

“These are very interesting findings and inform which types of beta-blockers to focus on for further studies. The caution here is that this was a retrospective study and additional prospective studies, including feasibility studies, are needed prior to doing larger clinical trials. The feasibility studies are already underway.”