American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting

American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting

Perspective from Manish A. Shah, MD
April 17, 2018
4 min read

Calcium channel blockers may increase risk for pancreatic cancer

Perspective from Manish A. Shah, MD
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Photo of Zensheng Wang
Zhensheng Wang

Calcium channel blockers, specifically the short-acting form, appeared associated with increased risk for pancreatic cancer among postmenopausal women, according to a study presented at American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting.

“Pancreatic cancer is not very common in the United States. It is the 12th most common cancer, but it is a very lethal cancer, as [it is] the third leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.” Zhensheng Wang, PhD, postdoctoral associate at Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine, said during a press conference. “The 5-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is very poor at only 8.2%.”

Pancreatic cancer typically occurs among older individuals who also have chronic comorbid medical conditions, such as hypertension. Antihypertensive medication use has increased significantly among these individuals, Wang said.

Wang and colleagues used data from the Women’s Health Initiative to assess how antihypertensive drugs and the soluble receptor for advanced glycation end product (sRAGE) may affect pancreatic cancer risk.

The researchers collected data on medication usage from 145,551 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 years who were enrolled from 1993 to 1998 and did not have prevalent cancer at baseline. The investigators assessed four types of antihypertensive drugs: beta blockers, diuretics, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and calcium channel blockers.

Mean follow-up was 13.8 years.

By August 2014, researchers observed 841 cases of pancreatic cancer.

Using an immunoassay, researchers assessed serum levels of sRAGE among 489 patients with pancreatic cancer and 977 noncancer controls.

After adjustment for comorbid factors, women who had ever used short-acting calcium channel blockers (n = 14,105) demonstrated a 66% higher risk for pancreatic cancer (HR = 1.66; 95% CI) compared with those who had ever used other antihypertensive drugs.

Those who used calcium channel blockers for more than 3 years demonstrated a 107% higher risk than those who had ever used other antihypertensive drugs. These association remained significant after investigators accounted for competing risks.

The other studied antihypertensive medications, including long-acting calcium channel blockers, did not appear associated with increased risk for pancreatic cancer.

Women who had ever used short-acting calcium channel blockers demonstrated significantly lower sRAGE levels compared with those who used any other antihypertensive medications (1,158 pg/mL vs. 1,446 pg/mL, P = 0.032).

sRAGE is thought to slow inflammatory response by blocking pro-inflammatory signaling. The blockage caused by the use of calcium channel blockers may reduce sRAGE release and cause chronic inflammation, a known risk factor for pancreatic cancer and other cancer types.

Limitations of the study included its observational nature, the inclusion of only postmenopausal women but no men or younger women, and several unmeasured potential confounding factors.

“Our findings on short-acting calcium channel blocker use and pancreatic cancer risk are novel and of potential broad medical and public health significance if confirmed,” Wang said in a press release. “Short-acting calcium channel blockers are still prescribed to manage hypertension, which is one of the components of metabolic syndrome, and metabolic syndrome is a possible risk factor for pancreatic cancer.” – by Cassie Homer



Wang Z, et al. Abstract 4946. Presented at: American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting; April 14-18, 2018; Chicago.

Disclosures: The NCI and Houston VA Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety funded this study. NIH and NHLBI fund the Women’s Health Initiative. Wang reports funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Please see the abstract for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.