Avastin Questions and Answers

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on August 11, 2021

Avastin (bevacizumab) belongs to a unique class of cancer drugs called angiogenesis inhibitors.

Q: What are angiogenesis inhibitors?

A: Cancers need blood in order to grow. To get enough blood, tumors tell the body to grow new blood vessels. Angiogenesis inhibitors block this process.

Q: How does Avastin work?

A: Avastin is a monoclonal antibody, a synthetic version of antibodies that our bodies produce and which fight foreign substances. Avastin binds to a molecule called vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF. VEGF is a key player in the growth of new blood vessels. Avastin turns VEGF off.

Q: Does a person taking Avastin still need chemotherapy?

A: Avastin doesn't work all by itself. Chemotherapy is still needed. But Avastin makes chemotherapy work better.

Q: What kinds of cancer can Avastin help?

A: Avastin is approved for the treatment of cancer of the colon or rectum that has spread to other parts of the body. It must be given along with chemotherapy that includes a drug called 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) or capecitabine (Xeloda). Other types of cancers that Avastin helps includes certain types of lung cancer, kidney cancer, ovarian cancer cervical cancer, and glioblastoma (a type of brain tumor). Clinical trials are underway to see if Avastin helps in other cancers.

Avastin, which had been used to treat breast cancer, is no longer approved by the FDA for this purpose, because the risks of the drug outweigh the benefits.

Q: Does Avastin cure colon cancer?

A: No. But Avastin significantly extends survival time. In clinical trials, patients treated with Avastin plus chemotherapy like 5-FU, leucovorin, oxaliplatin, and irinotecan survived about five months longer than patients treated with the chemotherapy alone.

Q: What are the side effects of Avastin?

A: Avastin has several serious side effects, although not all patients experience them. These side effects include:

  • Holes in the colon; when this happens, surgery is usually required.
  • Slower healing of wounds
  • Internal bleeding that may cause stroke or death
  • Patients receiving chemotherapy that injures the heart may have heart failure after Avastin treatment.
  • Avastin may cause kidney damage.
  • Patients taking Avastin may also experience high blood pressure, fatigue, blood clots in veins, diarrhea, headache, appetite loss, and sores in the mouth.
  • Blood in the urine