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Avastin halts ovarian cancer progression, but overall survival undetermined

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Avastin studies published in NEJM find the drug halts spread of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer treated with Avastin (bevacizumab) was found to halt the progression of cancer for women with advanced stages of the disease, but questions remain whether the drug improves overall survival.

For most women, treatment with the drug prevented ovarian cancer progression anywhere from 2 to 4 months, compared to women not given the drug; according to findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine, in two separate studies.

Avastin is the first new drug to help women with ovarian cancer in 15 years.

Study co-author Amit Oza of the Princess Margaret Cancer Program, University Health Network, St James’s Institute of Oncology, Leeds, UK, says Avastin should “be considered as a potential new standard of care” for treatment of women with the disease that has poor survival rates.

Bevacizumab starves cancer by halting the growth of new blood vessels that spawn more tumors. It has been effective for treating colorectal, lung, breast, kidney and brain, though the drug doesn’t cure cancer.

Findings presented October 2010 at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) congress, showed Avastin, combined with chemotherapy extended survival by 14.1 months versus 10.3 months with chemotherapy alone.

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According to Denise Reynolds, RD who reported the ESMO findings at EmaxHealth, “Each year, almost 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, because many cases are diagnosed late, after it has spread to other areas, survival rate for ovarian cancer is lower than some other types of cancer.”

In their 2010 press release, Roche's Chief Medical Officer Hal Barron reported the company intended to seek European ovarian cancer approval at the end of this year and submit a U.S. file in 2011. Last week, Avastin received European approval.

“We now know that using Avastin in ovarian cancer for even this short time improves outcomes,” says Dr. Oza. “The next step is to determine if giving it for a longer period would be of even greater benefit.”

A concern about Avastin is risk of heart attack, stroke and hemorrhage, but according to Karen Kaplan, chief executive of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, "Doctors are continuing to use it.”

Though Avastin is shown to stop progression of ovarian cancer, more data is needed to determine if the drug, combined with chemotherapy, extends overall, and not progression free survival rates. The drug is pricey. Findings from the current studies are being analyzed until 2013.

"Incorporation of Bevacizumab in the Primary Treatment of Ovarian Cancer"
Robert A. Burger, M.D et al.

"A Phase 3 Trial of Bevacizumab in Ovarian Cancer"
Timothy J. Perren, M.D. et al.
December 29, 2011

Image credit: Wikimedia commons