A study led by Michael Feigin, Ph.D., an associate professor of pharmacology and therapeutics at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, investigated the effects of benzodiazepines on pancreatic cancer patients’ survival.
Surprisingly, they found that lorazepam (Ativan) shortened progression-free survival, whereas alprazolam (Xanax) significantly extended it.
The study also discovered that lorazepam use correlated with worse overall survival in several other types of cancer.
Benzodiazepines and Their Common Use in Cancer Care:
Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed to cancer patients for treating symptoms like anxiety and insomnia.
However, until now, there hasn’t been comprehensive research on how these drugs may impact cancer outcomes.
Feigin and colleagues noted that 30.9% of patients treated at Roswell Park for various types of cancer had been prescribed benzodiazepines, with pancreatic cancer patients having the highest rate at 40.6%.
The Molecular Mechanism:
Abigail Cornwell, the study’s first author, performed mechanistic studies suggesting that lorazepam activates a protein called GPR68, which promotes inflammation in pancreatic tumors and leads to increased tumor growth.
On the other hand, alprazolam had no impact on GPR68 and actually decreased levels of the cytokine IL-6, which also promotes inflammation.
Differences in optimal benzodiazepine dosing between mice and humans.
Inconsistent benzodiazepine doses among human patients for different conditions.
Some experiments used subcutaneously implanted tumors, which have a different microenvironment than naturally-occurring pancreatic tumors.
Clinical Implications and Next Steps:
Feigin cautioned that it’s too early to recommend patients switch medications based on these findings. However, he did indicate that a clinical trial is in the works to further explore these effects.
What Does This Mean for Patients and Healthcare Providers?
Potential for Tailored Treatment: Understanding how specific medications influence cancer could enable more personalized and effective treatments.
Review of Current Protocols: The findings may lead to a re-evaluation of the widespread use of benzodiazepines like lorazepam in cancer care.
Increased Awareness: Healthcare providers may need to be more cautious when prescribing benzodiazepines, especially in the context of certain cancers.
Future Research: Further studies can illuminate how benzodiazepines affect the tumor microenvironment and whether similar results are observed in other types of cancer.
Overall, while these findings are preliminary, they open up new avenues for understanding the complex interactions between cancer and medications commonly used for palliative care.
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For more information about cancer, please see recent studies about herbs that may help treat pancreatic cancer, and results showing how to detect pancreatic cancer at treatable stages.
The study was published in Clinical Cancer Research.
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