A widely used and inexpensive drug used to treat a variety of heart conditions such as hypertension and congestive heart failure has found to be more effective for treating a common tumor of infancy, called infantile hemangiomas (IH), than corticosteroids, the standard therapy. IHs, which are tumors caused by a proliferation of blood vessels, tend to grow rapidly in the first three to 12 months of age, and then slowly regress over the next several years. If left untreated, these tumors can cause disfigurement, impair vision and hearing, and interfere with development, among a number of other serious health consequences. Treatment for IH often involves surgery or laser treatments and systemic corticosteroids.
Clinicians at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine conducted a review of 110 infants with IHs who were treated with propranolol, a type of heart medication called a beta-blocker. Propranolol has been shown in experimental studies to inhibit angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels. Of 68 infants treated with propranolol, 56 (82%) had at least 75% clearance of their tumors compared with 12 (29%) of infants who received oral corticosteroids. Eight infants (12%) who got propranolol needed further surgery compared with 12 infants (29%) who got corticosteroids. Propranolol was also less costly than corticosteroids and caused fewer side effects. Notably, propranolol was effective whether administered before 1 year (during the aggressive growth phase of the tumor) as well as after 1 year. This would indicate that propranolol not only inhibits angiogenesis, but has other mechanisms of action.