A study presented at the 2018 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting showed an association between short-acting calcium channel blockers (CCBs) and the increased risk of pancreatic cancer in postmenopausal women.
CCBs lower blood pressure and treat hypertension by stopping calcium from entering the heart’s muscle cells, relaxing the blood vessels — but like many prescription drugs, they come at a major cost to your health.
Previously, Zhensheng Wang, PhD, a post-doctoral associate and his team at the NCI-designed Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas showed that hypertension medication raises levels of soluble receptor for advanced glycation end-product (sRAGE). This receptor improves the immune response and reduces inflammation, lowering the risk of pancreatic cancer. Chronic inflammation is an acknowledged risk factor for many types of cancer.
Researchers Find CCBs Up Pancreatic Cancer Risk in Postmenopausal Women
Since blood pressure drugs raise sRAGE levels, the researchers reasoned that anti-hypertensive medications would in turn lower the risk of pancreatic cancer. But when Dr. Wang and his team reviewed data on 145,551 postmenopausal women aged 50-79 who enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), they realized that one category of hypertensive drugs — calcium channel blockers or CCBs — was problematic. Researchers also studied beta-blockers, diuretics and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors.
Using statistical models, Dr. Wang and his team studied the link between all four types of blood pressure medication and pancreatic cancer risk. Their findings showed that women who had taken short-acting CCBs were 66 percent more likely to develop this type of cancer, while women who had taken CCBs for 3 or more years had a 107 percent higher risk. The short-acting CCBs group also had much lower sRAGE levels than women who took other hypertensive drugs.
“[T]he blockage of the calcium channel caused by [the] use of CCBs may potentially reduce sRAGE release,” Dr. Wang said, “and thus further decrease the levels of anti-inflammatory sRAGE.” Hypertension is also a component of metabolic syndrome which is a possible risk for pancreatic cancer.
These findings may help explain why pancreatic cancer typically occurs in elderly people who have medical conditions like hypertension. Since the use of antihypertensive medication use has increased, “…it is of great public health significance to address the potential association between antihypertensive medication use and risk of pancreatic cancer in the general population,” says Dr. Wang.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related mortality in the U.S. According to the National Cancer Institute, 55,000 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018. Only 8.5 percent will survive for 5 years.