Beta-Blockers May Improve Post-Surgical Survival in Women With Ovarian Cancer, Heart Conditions

Women who were taking beta-blockers, a medicine to treat heart conditions like high blood pressure, among others, near the time of surgery for epithelial ovarian cancer may confer a survival benefit years after undergoing a procedure.

Women aged 50 years and older who were taking beta-blockers for heart conditions before undergoing surgery to treat epithelial ovarian cancer may have a survival advantage compared with those not taking the medication, according to recent study findings.

“Our study suggested that women with epithelial ovarian cancer who were using nonselective beta-blockers around the time of their surgery for ovarian cancer had improved survival compared to women who were not using these medications around the time of surgery,” Susan Jordan, associate professor of epidemiology at The University of Queensland School of Public Health in Herston, Australia, told CURE®.

Researchers analyzed data from 3,844 women at least 50 years of age with a history of heart conditions who underwent surgery for epithelial ovarian cancer. These data were used to assess the treatment effect of both selective and nonselective beta-blockers.

“Beta-blockers are medicines that block the effects of the hormones that the body produces the ‘fight or flight’ response — epinephrine and norepinephrine,” Jordan said. “They are used to treat cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and heart failure because of their effects of blocking these hormones. They tend to be divided into selective (working mostly on the heart) and nonselective types (have effects on other organs as well).”

Around the time that the women underwent surgery for ovarian cancer, 14.5% were taking selective beta-blockers and 1.7% were taking nonselective beta-blockers.

Two years after surgery, 80% of women taking nonselective beta-blockers were alive, compared with 69% of those not taking the medications. Of note, this survival advantage in women taking nonselective beta-blockers was present for at least eight years after surgery.

The association between beta-blockers and improved survival was not observed in women who were taking selective beta-blockers near the time of their surgery.

Although the findings from this study demonstrated a possible survival benefit in women taking nonselective beta-blockers, results need to be replicated in other studies before the use of beta-blockers becomes more common for these patients.

“This is because we want to be sure that our findings apply in other groups of women,” Jordan said in an interview. “If this is found, then this is a cheap and safe treatment with relatively few side effects that could very easily be added to a woman’s treatment at the time of surgery.”

Jordan said that although ovarian cancer remains one of the 10 most commonly diagnosed cancers in women, the five-year survival rate is less than 50%.

“We need to do more to improve treatment,” she added. “While new treatments are being developed and trialed, there is some evidence that some existing medicines that are already used to treat other conditions, are relatively cheap, and have well-established safety profiles could have anti-cancer effects. We wanted to investigate this possibility. These types of medicines could easily be repurposed if they are found to have beneficial effects.”

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