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Avastin May Help Fight Early Breast Cancer

Studies May Reopen Discussions About Benefits of Avastin for Breast Cancer
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Do the Benefits of Avastin Outweigh Its Risks?

In both studies, women who got Avastin had more side effects than those with standard chemotherapy. Those included fevers with low white blood cell counts, ulcers in the mouth and digestive tract, peeling of the skin on the hands and feet, infections, and high blood pressure.

While those problems are serious, researchers say going through some bad complications may be worth it if a woman can improve her chance of survival.

“In this setting, cure of the patient is the aim. Therefore, having bad side effects that will eventually go away may be worth it,” says von Minckwitz.

Bear agrees, and says use of the drug in this way will hinge upon whether or not it actually improves a woman’s chance of survival.

“If it improves survival, the risks will probably be worthwhile,” Bear says.

But independent experts caution against making too much of the small differences Avastin seemed to make.

“I would not give Avastin to any patient in the [pre-surgery] setting based on these data,” Aman U. Buzdar, MD, a medical oncologist and professor of medicine in the department of breast medical oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

He points out that when both studies narrowed their definition of complete response to mean only invasive cancers that had disappeared from both the breast and the lymph nodes, their results were not statistically significant, meaning they could have occurred by chance. “These studies don’t change anything in my mind, and it should not persuade patients that Avastin can change the biology of the disease,” he says. “I think the FDA decision was very appropriate.”

Buzdar says it may turn out that certain subsets of patients are helped by the drug, “but that still remains to be defined.”

Daly agrees that the studies do little to show how the drug might best be used in breast cancer.

“This just leaves us more confused than ever,” she says.

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