Back in October 2011 I wrote about the increasing evidence that beta blockers – normally prescribed for high blood pressure – might have some significant anti-cancer effects. A recently published paper, this time looking at people treated with radiotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), examined what effect taking beta blockers had. And, it has to be said that the results were very positive.
Specifically, those taking beta blockers had better distant metastasis-free survival (DMFS), disease-free survival (DFS), and overall survival (OS), even after taking account of age, disease staging and previous treatments. This suggests that taking beta blockers is independently associated with better overall survival. Mostly the effect seems to be related to stopping metastatic spread of the disease, as there was little evidence that it had much effect on the primary tumour. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that very often it’s the metastases that ultimately kill rather than the primary tumour.
This was a retrospective study, which means the data for it came from previously treated patients, but it was reasonably large (722 patients, of whom 155 were taking beta blockers). So, while this is solid evidence it’s not the same as a randomised clinical trial. There are lots of questions still to be explored, for example does the effect of beta blockers depend on prior exposure (i.e. do you have to have been taken them for a long time before diagnosis), is the effect still there if beta blockers are started after diagnosis, and at what dosage?
The hope is that this additional study adds to the weight of evidence and that it helps make a really strong case for some controlled clinical trials.
The paper reporting the trial can be downloaded here.