Research has shown that a simple beta blocker called Propranolol, developed over 40 years ago, could help women suffering from breast cancer. Studies in which the women who were already using the drug to help relieve symptoms of high blood pressure had a 76% less chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer than those who did not take the drug. The research, which was published recently in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, also supported other studies from smaller groups who were tested last year at Nottingham University.
Propranolol, first developed in the 1960’s, is used primarily to treat high blood pressure, angina, heart failure and symptoms of anxiety by reducing lowing the heart beat in patients. It also acts on two main receptors on the surface of cells and it is this that scientists believe may help with lowering the growth of tumours in the body. Further studies show that these beta blockers prevent the stress hormones present in every human reaching their target cells. In the case of cancerous cells, it would prevent the hormones from activating and stimulating their growth.
A study at Trinity College in Dublin and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the States examined over 5,000 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer between 2001 and 2006. They found that survival rates were greater when the women were also taking Propranolol with an estimated 81% of users less likely to have died after five years than non users. They were also less likely to have a secondary tumour diagnosed within the body or an advanced tumour that had spread to other parts of the body than non users.
Propranolol is a cheap high blood pressure drug costing a mere 5p a a day for patients and are long established within the health industry. They do, however, have some side effects such as dizziness, they may increase the chance of sleep disorders and have been known to raise the likelihood of people contracting type 2 diabetes. Despite this, scientists at the University of California have urged that more money be spent into research for the effects of beta blockers on breast cancer and suggest that larger trials are needed to prove the validity of results shown so far. If this simple drug is effective however, it will bring much needed hope to the 48,000 women who are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year.