Avastin is a chemotherapy drug approved by the FDA for treating cancers including colorectal cancer and lung cancer. The drug has demonstrated a statistically significant benefit in overall survival and symptom relief when treating inoperable mesothelioma. The drug does, however, have a history of serious side effects and high risk of treatment complications when combined with other agents.
How Avastin Works
Avastin is administered by intravenous infusion every three weeks for 6 cycles. A cycle is defined as the amount of time between treatments. The duration and dose of Avastin may vary depending on, among other things, patient response and side effects.
Avastin kills cancer cells by restricting growth of blood vessels within tumors. Restricting blood flow deprives cancer cells of nutrients and oxygen needed to survive, causing the cells to die.
In cancers like mesothelioma, Avastin is commonly used along with other chemotherapy drugs like gemcitabine.
Common, minor side effects of avastin include:
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
Research shows that some combinations including Avastin can lead to rare but life-threatening side effects, including:
- Neutropenia (an abnormally low count of a type of white blood cell)
- Elevated blood pressure
- Holes in the stomach
- Thrombotic events in the lungs (formation of blood clots)
Some argue, however, that the death rate is low and the potential life extending benefits when treating a cancer like mesothelioma are worth the risk.
Study Results and Potential Benefits of Avastin
When treating inoperable mesothelioma, the standard of care has remained the same since 2003 when pemetrexed was combined with cisplatin. With promising results, many are claiming Avastin is the drug that will change the standard of care when treating mesothelioma.
In a clinical trial that took place from 2008-2014, Avastin was combined with both cisplatin and pemetrexed. This combination of chemotherapeutic agents is also referred to as “triplet” therapy. Combining Avastin with cisplatin and pemetrexed extended median survival times to 18.6 months. This is a significant increase compared to 16.1 months when treating mesothelioma with only cisplatin and pemetrexed.
Patients receiving triplet therapy also saw an increase in the time it took after treatment for cancer to spread, or progression-free survival, of 9.6 months. This is a significant increase from 7.5 months when compared to participants who received only cisplatin and pemetrexed.
There is concern insurance cost-benefit calculations may limit the use of Avastin when treating mesothelioma. The estimated monthly cost of adding Avastin to mesothelioma treatment ranges anywhere from $8,000-$10,000 a month. However, with such promising results, oncologists are optimistic the addition of Avastin will become the new standard of care and insurance companies will cover the treatment.