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According to a preliminary study presented at the European Breast Cancer Conference, breast cancer patients who use beta blockers to treat high blood pressure may have a reduced risk of distant metastasis and death from breast cancer.

This study is among the first to evaluate the relationship between beta blockers (drugs used to treat high blood pressure and certain other conditions) and breast cancer outcomes. Beta blockers block the effect of certain stress hormones, which may reduce the growth and spread of cancer.

The study, lead by a researcher in the U.K., evaluated three groups:

1.Breast cancer patients using beta blockers for high blood pressure

2.Breast cancer patients using other medications for high blood pressure

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3.Breast cancer patients without high blood pressure

Compared with the other two groups, breast cancer patients who used beta blockers for high blood pressure were less likely to develop a local recurrence or distant metastasis and had a 71% reduction in risk of death from breast cancer.

Because the benefit was only observed among women treated with beta blockers (and not among women treated with other medications for high blood pressure), it’s unlikely that the underlying high blood pressure contributed to the improved cancer outcomes. The effect is more likely due to the medication itself.

Although these results are interesting, they will need to be confirmed by additional, larger studies. At the present time, women are not advised to use beta blockers for the purpose of improving cancer outcomes. There are risks to these drugs, and the effects on cancer remain uncertain.

Reference: Powe DG, Voss MJ, Habashy HO et al. Beta-blocker treatment is associated with a reduction in tumour metastasis and an improvement in specific survival in patients with breast cancer. Presented at the 7th European Breast Cancer Conference. Barcelona, Spain, March 24-27, 2010. Abstract 445.

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