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.
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.