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Blood Pressure Medications and Cancer

Blood Pressure Medications and Cancer


Nov 2015


Considerable concern has been shown over correlations between blood pressure medications and the development of cancer, specifically in relation to angiogenesis inhibitors such as Avastin, Sutent, and Nexavar, which may cause patients’ blood pressure to actually spike. Further, while these drugs are effective for blood pressure, they can block the growth of new blood vessels, thus reducing the level of nitric oxide, which helps regulate blood vessel health.

A primary result with these medications has been seen in the higher occurrence of breast cancer in menopausal women. It is thought that the medications’ effects on the blood vessels are a large contributor to the formation of cancer cells, although this is not the only concern. There is also an issue in regards to blood pressure medications and how they may interact with chemotherapy, and this is also a factor about which patients need to speak to their physicians.

Looking At Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension, is a condition that can damage the arteries, heart and other organs. It is actually quite common for cancer patients to have high blood pressure, not just due to stress and physical changes, but also because some cancer treatments, including certain types of chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy, can have side effects on the cardiovascular system.

Even without the presence of cancer, high blood pressure can lead to:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • kidney damage
  • Peripheral arterial disease

Further, if it is left untreated, high blood pressure can also interrupt cancer treatment, since the proper circulation of chemicals through the blood in chemotherapy is necessary for success. Cancer patients can take measures to help control blood pressure by seeking care from their oncologists, or by working with specialists such as internists and cardiologists to provide thorough and comprehensive treatment. In this manner, the different but interrelated physical issues can also be addressed in a manner where there is less chance of danger to the patient.

Overall, high blood pressure affects the heart by injuring the walls of the arteries. The heart is essentially pumping much faster or harder, and the force on the arteries is so great that it can generate small tears in the artery walls. Further, if there is a significant build up of plaque, then it can also break loose and become trapped in the tears. This can then continue building up in the arteries and will prevent the normal flow of blood to the heart, brain, kidneys, arms and legs.

For patients with cancer, this can become an even more daunting prospect as the lowered immune function from the illness can also lead to internal infections, as well as greater stress on organs that are impacted by the cancer. The apparent issue is that blood pressure medication is made necessary through the effects of the cancer, yet, the treatment for the illness can be negated by the blood pressure medications.

This makes it very important for patients to communicate with all of their care providers regarding this issue. Solutions to the situation can include the use of multiple approaches in developing a comprehensive treatment plan, since alternatives to some of the medications that cause the greatest harm can still be compatible for targeted cancer treatments.

As a result, this also means that cancer patients with high blood pressure should always make sure to:

  • Give doctors a comprehensive medical history
  • Take the time for regular checkups as well as regular blood pressure monitoring
  • Collaborate between doctors and specialists to gain better knowledge of treatment and side effects
  • Take screening tests for cardiovascular function
  • Use alternatives to reduce blood pressure

Blood Pressure Medications Effects On Cancer

Angiotensin Receptor Blockers

Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) are one form of blood pressure medication that is widely used to reduce blood pressure but has also shown correlation to the development of cancer. These drugs can also have significant interactions during cancer treatments, although patient reactions will vary. However, another concern with ARBs is that they can impact kidney function severely, and this becomes highly problematic for hormone based cancer treatments.

What is notable is the fact that ARBs still show some compatibility with other cancer treatments, and may be used if the patient has no reaction to the effects. This is largely due to the fact that while all ARBs are similar in their function and their side effects, there are differences in how the drugs are metabolized and how they spread through the body. Although all of the following drugs are ARBs, it should be noted that Avapro and Atacand show better response in lowering blood pressure that Cozaar. Thus, even though the general composition of the drug is the same, shopping specific brand names can provide more applicable relief.

Truly, the greatest concern with ARBs in general, and in conjunction with cancer therapy, is the side effects. In regards to cancer treatments, immediate reactions of flushing, swelling, and shortness of breath may be seen as an immediate response to the interaction. On a general level, side effects for any of the ARBs can include:

  • Chronic coughing
  • High blood potassium levels
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Gastric upset
  • Rashes
  • Kidney failure
  • Swelling
  • Sexual dysfunction

Although these side effects can seem daunting, ARBs are fairly well tolerated by most people, and do have positive impacts for cancer patients and others with high blood pressure.

When it comes to ARBs, how they help to lower blood pressure is through blocking the action of angiotensin in the blood stream. Normally, this chemical will cause vascular narrowing, which increases blood pressure, but ARBs block this effect to allow the blood to flow more freely without stressing the heart. Although the effect does have some negative impacts on the state of the blood vessels, it does reduce the blood pressure and this can allow for a better dispersion of chemicals for cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy.

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