The cancer drug Avastin may slightly extend the lives of women with advanced cervical cancer, a new study says.
Overall, patients given Avastin (bevacizumab) lived four months longer on average than those being treated with standard chemotherapy alone, said researchers scheduled to present the results Sunday in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
"Women with advanced cervical cancer don't have many options," study lead author Dr Krishnansu Sujata Tewari, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of California, Irvine, noted in an ASCO news release. "We finally have a drug that helps women live longer. This is also possibly a first step toward turning cervical cancer into a chronic disease, helping women live longer and allowing time for additional treatments that could further slow the cancer's progression and improve survival."
The study was funded by the US National Cancer Institute.
Advanced cervical cancer doesn't respond well to chemo
Tewari's team noted that advanced cervical cancer typically does not respond well to chemotherapy. Although US cervical cancer rates have fallen dramatically over the past century due to the advent of the Pap test, roughly 4 000 American women still die each year from the disease. Globally, cervical cancer kills 250 000 women annually.
The new study focused on 452 women, all of whom were being treated with one of two standard chemotherapy regimens - cisplatin plus paclitaxel or topotecan plus paclitaxel.
Half the women were randomly assigned to receive Avastin as well.
The result: those receiving both chemotherapy and Avastin had an average survival of 17 months, compared with just 13.3 months among those being treated with chemotherapy alone. The rate of tumour reduction was also higher among those receiving the double treatment: 48% for those taking Avastin versus 36% among those who didn't take it.
There was no appreciable difference noted in the results when comparing one chemo regimen with the other, and the use of Avastin was not associated with a poorer quality of life among those receiving it.
That said, the researchers pointed out that Avastin has not yet been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for specific use as a gynaecologic cancer treatment. The drug also comes with a hefty price tag - about $5 000 (R50 400) per month.
However, two experts not connected with the research said that Avastin did seem to offer some improvement.
Patients' overall survival
"The addition of bevacizumab demonstrated that it can improve the overall survival in these patients," said Dr Linus Chuang, director of gynaecologic oncology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. "This marks for the first time a randomised trial showing that bevacizumab is effective in treating cervical cancer patients. Further research of this drug may be needed to improve the outcomes in patients with gynaecologic cancers."
Dr Elizabeth Poynor is a gynecologic oncologist and pelvic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She said the study "demonstrates that the application of new, targeted therapies against cancer can improve survival in women who previously have had few good treatment options. The study is encouraging not only because survival can be prolonged in women with advanced, metastatic cervical cancer, but also confirms the potential that these new therapies have in difficult-to-treat cancers."
Findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
For more on cervical cancer, head to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.