For the first time, researchers say they have demonstrated a benefit in overall survival among epithelial ovarian cancer patients receiving beta-blockers.
Survival was shown to be greatest among those prescribed first-generation non-selective beta-blockers.
The commonly-used heart drugs block the effects of stress pathways involved in tumour growth and spread, according to the University of Texas investigators.
Published in the journal Cancer, the findings follow analysis of the medical records of 1,425 women with ovarian cancer.
“Our research has shown that the same stress mechanisms impact ovarian cancer progression, so these drugs could play a new role in cancer treatment”
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 non-selective beta antagonists (NSBBs).
The research team found that, for patients receiving any beta-blocker, the median overall survival was 47.8 months versus 42 months for non-users.
Meanwhile, the median overall survival based on beta-blocker receptor selectivity was 94.9 months for those receiving NSBBs versus 38 months for those receiving SBBs.
In addition, even among patients with hypertension, a longer median overall survival was observed among users of NSBBs compared with non-users – 90 months versus 38.2 months.
Study author Professor Anil Sood said the study showed that stress hormones fuelled progression of ovarian and other cancers, and that beta-blockers might be a new way to stifle that effect.
“Beta-blockers treat a variety of conditions, such as heart disease, high-blood pressure, glaucoma and migraines,” he said.
“They target a receptor protein in heart muscle that causes the heart to beat harder and faster when activated by stress hormones,” said Professor Sood.
“Our research has shown that the same stress mechanisms impact ovarian cancer progression, so these drugs could play a new role in cancer treatment,” he added.
According to Professor Sood, the usefulness of beta-blockers was unclear until now.
“The ability to show improved survival using non-selective agents – which inhibit a specific stress pathway – is the culmination of years of research into ovarian cancer biology and pathogenesis,” he said.
Future trials will seek to identify patients who would benefit most from beta-blocker use and the best beta-blocker for a specific tumour type, noted the study authors.
Then they potentially could be used as an adjuvant therapy during surgical recovery and chemotherapy to decrease tumour growth, delays in wound healing and metastasis.