Stress appears to hasten the progression of aggressive or advanced melanoma skin cancer, but commonly prescribed blood pressure drugs may slow the disease and improve the quality of patients' lives, according to an Ohio State University study.


Each year in the United States almost 48,000 cases of melanoma--the most serious type of skin cancer-are diagnosed and nearly 8,000 people die of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

The Study

In laboratory tests, the researchers exposed samples of three melanoma cell lines to the stress hormone norepinephrine and looked for changes in the levels of certain proteins released by the cells. The three proteins studied were vascular endothelial growth factor(VEGF), which stimulates the growth of new blood vessels to feed a growing tumor and interleukin-6 (IL-6) and interleukin-8 (IL-8), which play a role in tumor growth.

The Findings

When exposed to norepinephrine, all three melanoma cell lines increased production of the three proteins. In C8161 cells the most aggressive and advanced form of melanoma—there was "a 2,000 percent increase in IL-6. In untreated samples from this cell line, you normally can't detect any IL-6 at all," said Eric V. Yang, PhD, a research scientist at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University.

"What this tells us is that stress might have a worse effect on melanoma that is in a very aggressive or advanced stage, and that one marker for that might be increased levels of IL-6," Dr. Yang said.

The researchers found that norepinephrine molecules bind to receptors on the surface of cancer cells, which stimulates the release of the pro-cancer proteins.

Further tests showed that common beta-blocker blood pressure drugs significantly reduced melanoma cells' production of IL-6 and the other two proteins. The drugs did this by blocking the receptors on the surface of the cancer cells.


The findings, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, suggest that beta-blockers may help slow the progression of melanoma, Dr. Yang and colleagues said.

Skin Cancer Patients at Risk For Other Cancers

In a 16-year study, research is found that people previously diagnosed with nonmelanoma skin cancer (basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer) were twice as likely to develop other types of malignancies—such as breast, colon or lung cancer-as those without a history of skin cancer.

Theory: People who develop skin cancer may have an inherited tendency to develop other cancers.

If you have a history of nonmelanoma skin cancer: Be sure that your doctors know about it.

Curable Cancers Doctors Don't Look For

Researchers from the University of Miami and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzed data on 38,124 adults and found that only 15% reported ever having a skin cancer screening. Screening rates were lowest among those who work outside, such as farmers and construction workers.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US, with more than 1 million cases and 10,000 deaths annually. Ask your dermatologist to examine your skin (from head to toe) yearly for signs of cancer. And if you have any suspicious lesions including a mole that has changed shape or color-see a doctor. When caught early, cancerous skin lesions are 100% curable.

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