Common drugs used to prevent heart attacks and lower blood pressure may also increase survival rates of people living with melanoma — the most deadly type of skin cancer — a study has found. Patients with metastatic melanoma, or melanoma that has spread to other parts of the body, often have a poor prognosis, and while some forms of immunotherapy — treatments that boost the body’s immune system to fight disease — are promising, response rates are less than 35 per cent. The findings showed that melanoma patients who received immunotherapy while taking a specific type of beta blocker lived longer than patients who received immunotherapy alone.
“Beta blockers slow your heart rhythm but they can also affect immune cells and improve immune function,” said Todd Schell, Professor at the Pennsylvania State University. Pan beta blockers, one of the least prescribed, was found as more effective against melanoma. The effect is believed to be the result of lower stress levels that beta-blockers provide, the researchers said. For the study, published in the journal OncoImmunology, the team analysed data from 195 metastatic melanoma patients who were treated with immunotherapy. They compared survival between the patients taking beta 1-selective blockers, pan beta blockers and no beta blockers and found that patients taking pan beta blockers lived significantly longer than the others. Five years after immunotherapy, about 70 per cent of patients receiving pan beta blockers were still alive, versus about 25 per cent of those taking beta 1-selective blockers or no beta blockers at all. In a follow-up experiment with mice, the researchers saw the same results.
The results suggest that reducing physiological stress with beta blockers can help improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy and survival for melanoma patients.