Studies on Avastin use before breast cancer surgery

January 25, 2012 2:42:35 PM PST
For women diagnosed with breast cancer, should you take medication before surgery to shrink your tumor first?

Two new studies published in the New England Journal of Medication say the drug Avastin may help.

The studies combined looked at more than 3,000 women.

The results show that giving Avastin before surgery together with the usual medication increases the chance that the tumor will disappear completely.

"If we can shrink this tumor down, maybe even make the cancer completely go away, they can now have breast conserving surgery such as a lumpectomy and keep their breast," said Sharon Rosenbaum Smith, MD, St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital.

This new research only looks at so called "triple negative tumors" meaning the cancer doesn't respond to certain hormones.

The studies do not prove that Avastin keeps the cancer from coming back or that it increases survival rates.

Also, patients had higher rates of high blood pressure, heart dysfunction and painful ulcers in the mouth.

So if there are potential side effects and we're not sure if it'll help you live longer, it's not clear yet if giving you this medication is worth it.

Breast surgeon Dr. Sharon Rosenbaum Smith says she already uses chemotherapy medication before surgery for some patients, especially for women who have large tumors or small breasts, but she would not add Avastin yet.

"It's an interesting study. It's certainly not going to change the way we treat patients right now, but we really need to follow these patients and see what the long term outcome is going to be," Dr. Rosenbaum Smith said.

Keep in mind, Avastin is no longer FDA approved for breast cancer.

The FDA revoked the approval status last November, stating that the drug has not been shown to be safe and effective for breast cancer patients.

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