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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ovarian Cancer: Treatment with Avastin

Ovarian cancer is a serious disease diagnosed in over 20,000 women a year in the U.S. alone. Cancer is any of a large group of malignant diseases characterized by an abnormal, uncontrolled growth of new cells in one of the body organs or tissues. As the name suggests, ovarian cancer is cancer of the ovaries. The ovaries are a pair of glands that contain the eggs (female reproductive cells) and produce female hormones. Hormones are natural chemicals produced by the body and released into the blood that have a specific effect on tissues in the body.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are usually absent or subtle in the early stages of the disease, which is why it often goes undetected initially. Signs and symptoms typically include bloating, increased fluid in the abdomen area, pain in the abdomen, pelvis, or back, a mass in the abdomen, difficulty eating, weight loss, urinary difficulties, constipation, fatigue, and abnormal bleeding from the female reproductive area. Because the condition can go undiagnosed for so long, when the disease is detected in later stages, the prognosis is usually poor.

Treatment of ovarian cancer usually involves chemotherapy medication after surgery. There are many different chemotherapy options and combinations for women with ovarian cancer, which largely depends on the tumor type (when analyzed microscopically). One such chemotherapy medication is Bevacizumab (trade name Avastin). Avastin is known as an angiogenesis inhibitor, which means that it slows the growth of new blood vessels. This is important because tumors (cancerous masses) are highly dependent on blood vessel formation.

Avastin was first made commercially available for the treatment of colorectal cancer in 2004. At the time of this writing, Avastin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat additional cancers but is not yet approved to treat ovarian cancer in the U.S. However, Avastin is approved for ovarian cancer treatment in Europe.

Several clinical trials have been conducted in the U.S. to explore the role of Avastin in ovarian cancer treatment. This research was recently summarized by researchers in the medical journal, Advances in Therapy. The authors noted that adding Avastin as part of a first line treatment in advanced ovarian cancer and as maintenance therapy improves progression-free survival (PFS). PFS is the length of time during and after medication or treatment during which the disease being treated (e.g., cancer) does not worsen. Avalide has also shown benefit with respect to PFS in relapsed ovarian cancer that is sensitive to or resistant to platinum-containing chemotherapy.

While benefit to using Avastin in ovarian cancer treatment has been demonstrated, the authors noted that the medication is not without its side effects. Nevertheless, the authors concluded that Avastin represents a new option in treatment for ovarian cancer.

Suggested reading: Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer

Related blog entry: Ovarian Tumors in Children: They Happen

Reference: Heitz F, Harter P, Barinoff J, Beutel B, Kannisto P, Grabowski JP, Heitz J, Kurzeder C, du Bois A. (2012). Bevacizumab in the treatment of ovarian cancer. Adv Ther. 29(9):723-35.

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