Common cardiovascular medications in cancer therapeutics

Christos Vaklavas, Yiannis S. Chatzizisis, Apostolia Maria Tsimberidou

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Cardiac glycosides, statins, β-blockers, angiotensin-I converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEIs), and angiotensin II type 1 receptor blockers (ARBs) are widely used cardiovascular medications with pleiotropic properties. Many of these medications have been investigated in other diseases, including cancer. Cardiac glycosides and statins have advanced to clinical trial testing in cancer therapeutics, with variable success. Early observations in breast cancer were consistent with a more benign histologic phenotype among women taking digitalis compared to their counterparts who did not receive cardiac glycosides. Cardiac glycosides can induce apoptosis in cancer cells through various mechanisms and sensitize them to the effects of antitumor therapy. By blocking the generation of prenyl units, statins impair prenylation, an important posttranslational modification of proteins whose function depends on membrane anchoring. Statins also impair protein folding and N-glycosylation and inhibit the upregulation of cholesterol synthesis associated with chemotherapy resistance. Stress and catecholamine release promote tumor growth and angiogenesis, effects that can be mitigated by β-blockers. Components of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system are expressed in various cancers and are involved in carcinogenesis and tumor progression. Angiotensin II has potent mitogenic and angiogenic properties that can be blocked with ACEIs and ARBs. Although it is unclear whether the promising preclinical activity of many cardiovascular medications has clinically meaningful implications beyond the benefit in cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, the prevention or improvement of prognosis of common malignancies with medications known to reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality is encouraging and deserves further clinical investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-190
Number of pages14
JournalPharmacology and Therapeutics
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Angiotensin receptor blockers
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors
  • Beta blockers
  • Cardiac glycosides
  • Cardio-oncology
  • Statins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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