Stress accelerates the development of pancreatic cancer by triggering the release of "fight or flight" hormones. In this context, beta-blockers appear as a credible alternative to increase survival.
Stress is often cited as a cause of cancer, but evidence is lacking to support this hypothesis.
A new study of pancreatic cancer reveals that patients taking selective beta-blocking therapy, usually used to treat heart disease, live about two-thirds more than those who do not take these drugs.
This follows recent work showing that emotional and psychological stress plays a role in the development of tumors in general. It is thought that this effect occurs through the sympathetic nervous system, which releases hormones giving the body a surge of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. Beta blockers work by blocking this system.
Studies in mice have shown that stress increases catecholamine levels - combat or leakage hormones - in the bloodstream. In the pancreas, catecholamines stimulate the production of molecules that cause nerve growth around tumors. These new nerves, in turn, cause the tumor to develop and make more catecholamines, perpetuating the cycle.
To cope with this phenomenon stimulating "carcinogenesis", only beta-blockers are recommended, and again: "It would be premature to recommend the use of beta-blockers for these patients until we conduct prospective clinical trialsexplains the lead author of the study. But beta-blockers could potentially be part of the treatment strategy for pancreatic cancer."