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Can blood pressure medication stop breast cancer?

Can blood pressure medication stop breast cancer?

The spread of breast cancer may be prevented by well-known drugs commonly used to treat high blood pressure, research funded by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) will explore.

Dr Jonathan Hiller, researcher and anaesthetist from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, supports increasing evidence that chronic stress and sympathetic nervous system activity (the system responsible for the ”fight or flight” response) influenced the behaviour of breast cancer cells.

Laboratory research by Dr Erica Sloan at the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences has shown that sympathetic nervous system changes breast cancer progression to increase metastasis (the spread of cancer), Dr Hiller said.

“Understanding and managing increased sympathetic nervous system activity during the stress patients experience before, during and after their operation may improve long-term survival after breast cancer surgery.”

Dr Hiller said a class of drugs called beta-blockers, often used to control hypertension (high blood pressure), may offset the harmful changes stress induces in breast cancer cells.

“In animals studies we have seen that beta-blockers can prevent the spread of breast cancer and, in human breast cancer studies, better outcomes are linked to patients who have breast cancer and have been simultaneously treated for hypertension with beta-blockers.”

He said the beta-blocker associated with the most consistent benefit for patients with cancer is propranolol, a drug currently used to treat mild hypertension and anxiety.

“We want to see if the benefits of propranolol seen in pre-clinical studies of breast cancer are also seen post-operatively in women with breast cancer,” he said.

The study will also help anaesthetists learn whether propranolol effectively manages pre-operative anxiety and whether propranolol limits the body’s stress response to surgery.

“Research, conducted in animals, shows that stress worsens cancer. In humans, stress is associated with progression of breast cancer – not its occurrence. Stress appears to worsen the progression of the disease.”

The research received funding from ANZCA’s Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine Foundation. The foundation supports research projects across the fields of anaesthesia and pain medicine. ANZCA established the Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine Foundation in 2007 to support medical research and education.


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