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TCD scientists make crucial breakthrough in breast cancer research

Researchers discovered that taking beta blockers, which stop stress responses, reduced the chance of the cancer spreading, and improved survival rates.

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A TEAM OF Irish scientists working at Trinity College Dublin have made an important discovery that could help reduce the risk of breast cancer spreading and improve survival rates.

The research, which has just been published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, involved women diagnosed with breast cancer in Ireland between 2000 and 2007. The researchers, led by Dr Thomas I. Barron, trawled pharamacy databases to see which drugs these women had been taking prior to their diagnosis.

He discovered that those taking beta blockers, or drugs are used to block normal stress responses, had a much lower risk of dying from their cancer.

Barron said that in cancer patients, “higher levels of stress are associated with more frequent disease recurrence, faster disease progression and higher rates of death from cancer.”

He went on:

“Some lab based studies have suggested how stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline, could play a role in this process. Ours is the first study in humans to show that blocking this stress response significantly reduces the risk of cancer spreading or metastasising.”

Barron said the research could have “significant implications” for clinical practice, after his study found that women who were taking stress hormone blocking drugs for one year before diagnosis and afterwards were “considerably less likely to die from the disease”.

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An editorial in the Journal of Clinical Oncology said beta blockers were “safe, inexpensive and well-understood” and called the findings “provocative”.

Read more: Expanding our therapeutic options: Beta blockers for breast cancer?

See the abstract for Dr Thomas I. Barron’s study >

About the author:

Jennifer O'Connell

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