Stress can promote the spread of breast cancer tumors to the bones of patients, according to new research out of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The research, published in the journal Public Library of Science Biology, is based on experiments on mice that found stress actives the body’s sympathetic nervous system – the "fight-or-flight" response – and primes the bones to become friendly environments for the growth of breast cancer tumors that spread.
Investigators said they were able to prevent breast cancer cell lesions from growing in bone using propranolol, a cardiovascular medicine that inhibits sympathetic nervous system signals.
Metastasis – the spread of tumors to distant organs, including bone – is more likely to kill patients than a primary breast tumor, noted Florent Elefteriou, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Bone Biology.SPECIAL: This Small Group of Doctors are Quietly Curing Cancer — Read More.
"Preventing metastasis is really the goal we want to achieve," he said. "We came to the hypothesis that sympathetic activation might remodel the bone environment and make it more favorable for cancer cells to metastasize there."
Elefteriou noted evidence from past studies of breast cancer patients have also those suffering from stress or depression following treatment had shorter survival times.
The researchers said their findings that propranolol and other so-called beta-blockers can block cancer cell spread to the bone could have significant implications for patients.
"If something as simple as a beta blocker could prevent cancer metastasis to bone, this would impact the treatment of millions of patients worldwide," he said.
Efforts to reduce stress and depression in patients with cancer may also boost their survival odds, he added.
The study was funded, in part, by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health.