Long-term Avastin use helps keep ovarian cancer in check
Long-term therapy with the blockbuster drug Avastin — already used to treat breast, lung and colorectal cancers — also appears to help women with advanced ovarian tumors, a study shows.
In the study, presented Sunday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology, researchers compared the results of giving women standard chemotherapy, chemo and Avastin or the combination plus up to 10 more months of Avastin. All the women had newly diagnosed cancer and hadn't received any other therapy.
Long-term Avastin use kept women's cancers in check for a median of 14 months, about four months longer than women who got only chemo, according to the study of 1,873 patients, which included those with closely related diseases called primary peritoneal cancer and fallopian tube cancers.
A short course of Avastin and chemotherapy didn't appear to offer any benefit, says study author Robert Burger of the Gynecologic Oncology Group, a nationwide research collaborative, and a cancer specialist at Philadelphia's Fox-Chase Cancer Center.
Although earlier studies have shown that Avastin can help fight relapsed ovarian cancer, this is the first to show it also combats newly diagnosed disease, Burger says.
Avastin, approved in 2004, works differently from chemo. Instead of killing fast-growing cells, it dries up the blood supply that helps tumors grow.
It's too soon to know whether long-term Avastin therapy helps women live longer, Burger says. Women given long-term Avastin therapy had more side effects. About 10% of them had serious or life-threatening high blood pressure, compared with 1.6% of women on chemo alone. About 2.3% of women on long-term Avastin developed severe bleeding or perforated intestines, compared with 0.8% of women on chemo alone.
Although Avastin isn't approved for ovarian cancer, doctors can prescribe it off-label, Burger says. Avastin can cost up to $56,000 a year for its approved uses, according to Genentech spokeswoman Krysta Pellegrino.
Sandy Walker, 61, has been taking Avastin almost three years. Although she knows it is not a cure, she says she is happy that it is easier to take than standard chemo, which left her very sick for a week after each dose. Today, she is attending college, taking pre-law and political science classes.
"When you are first diagnosed, there is a tendency to think there is no hope," says Walker, from Greensboro, N.C. "It would boost people's spirits to know that, even if this isn't curing it, it's holding it at bay. And I'll take that."