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Avastin May Stop Rectal Cancer Spread

Patients in Study Show No Signs of New Cancer Growth in Area of Original Tumor
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 15, 2008 (San Diego) -- Adding the cancer drug Avastin to standard treatment stopped cancer spread in 22 of 24 patients with rectal tumors, researchers report.

The patients were given Avastin, chemotherapy, and radiation prior to surgery to have their tumors removed. Three years later, all the patients were alive and 91% had no signs their disease was getting worse.

And none had new cancer growth in the area of the original tumor, says Rakesh Jain, PhD, the Andrew Werk Professor of Tumor Biology at Harvard Medical School.

"I know of no other therapy in this patient population where we can even get close to 100% tumor control. Although this needs to be confirmed in a randomized trial against a placebo group, these are very impressive numbers," he says.

Avastin was one of several drugs that took center stage during the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer research this week. Other researchers report that a drug that starves tumors of their blood supply shows promise for the treatment of one of the deadliest forms of brain cancer.

Still other researchers have had early success turbo-charging the body's own immune system to fight prostate cancer.

Avastin Fights Rectal Cancer

Avastin is already approved to treat metastatic colorectal cancer, advanced lung cancer, and metastatic breast cancer.

Its cancer-fighting abilities have been attributed to its ability to prevent tumors from growing new blood vessels, thereby choking them to death.

The new research in rectal cancer patients suggests that it works in another remarkable way as well: It also repairs remaining blood vessels, Jain tells WebMD.

"Some of the blood vessels are pruned away immediately. But the vessels that remain become less abnormal. This creates a less hostile environment so radiation and chemotherapy can work better," he says.

The researchers monitored the repair of blood vessels using imaging scans and blood tests for biomarkers known to be involved in cancer growth, according to Jain.

Experimental Drug Shows Promise for Brain Cancer

In a second study, the experimental drug cediranib helped shrink tumors and prolong the lives of people with a relatively common but often fatal type of brain cancer called glioblastoma.

"These patients have a very poor prognosis, with fewer than 5% alive five years after diagnosis. There's a significant need for new therapies," says Tracy Batchelor, MD, executive director of the Stephen E. and Catherine Pappas Center for Neuro-Oncology at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston.

The researchers gave the pill to 31 people who had failed to respond to radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.

After six months, about 25% were alive without signs that their cancer had grown or spread. That might not seem like much, but with traditional treatment, only about 15% of the patients would fare this well, Batchelor tells WebMD.

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