Blood Pressure Drugs May Lower Cancer Risk Associated with Barrett's Syndrome

Treatment with antihypertensive drugs was seen to lower cancer-related proteins.

Blood pressure medications and their mechanisms could provide the key for developing new treatments for Barrett’s syndrome, and also prevent cancer in these patients, a recent study indicates.

"If we could filter out those who are not at greater risk, it would represent huge gains for both patients and health care providers," said researcher Svein Olav Bratlie, PhD candidate.

Approximately 1% to 2% of the Swedish population has Barrett’s syndrome, which is a condition where the bottom part of the esophagus becomes more acid-resistant. Prior to developing the condition, patients typically experience long-term acid reflux, according to the study.

"The reflux illness leads to inflammation of the esophagus, and in many people the esophagus heals and becomes normal again," Bratlie said. "But among a certain percentage, the tissue becomes more like the intestine, and that is what Barrett's syndrome is. We have observed that these patients run a greater risk of developing cancer of the esophagus."

The study included 30 patients diagnosed with Barret’s syndrome, with 20 randomized to receive 3-weeks of treatment with low doses of antihypertensive drugs.

The researchers discovered that patients who were taking the antihypertensive drugs had lower levels of cancer-related proteins compared with the control patients. Lower levels of these proteins, which are the precursor to cancer cells, could result in a lower cancer risk in these patients, according to the study.

"This does not prove that it would be an effective treatment, but it generates a hypothesis that in the future we might be able to slow down the development of cancer or inflammation by using these medicines in combination with other treatments," Bratlie said.

The researchers believe that alterations in the levels of these proteins could be used as a biomarker to determine whether a patient will likely develop cancer resulting from Barrett’s syndrome.

“Tissue samples from the mucous membrane are the only established risk marker today, and taking them during endoscopic investigation is costly, and unpleasant for patients,” Bratlie said. “Now several potential risk markers are being studied, and some of the cancer-related proteins discovered in my thesis project could be one of them.”

If protein levels are confirmed as a predictive marker for cancer related to Barrett’s syndrome, patients may face a less costly and invasive procedure to accurately assess their risk.

"In the future, we envision being able to tell a patient that he or she does not have a risk profile so that we can stop doing gastroscopy, which many find unpleasant,” Bratlie concluded.