Patients with advanced colorectal cancer have new hope for a longer life.
The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the drug Avastin
to be used in combination with chemotherapy. Doctors are calling it a big breakthrough.
In 2002, after doctors told Grace Vanhoose she had metastatic colorectal cancer, she knew enough to know one thing
"Unless they had something new, I didn't have a lot of hope," she said.
There was something new. Vanhoose qualified as a study participant for the drug Avastin.
"There's been no new growth. I've been in remission for six months," she said.
For 40 years, the only treatment available for advanced stage colorectal cancer was a special kind of chemotherapy. The average survival rate was 15 months.
"When those patients were given chemotherapy plus avastin they lived for over 20 months," said Dr. Richard Goldberg of the University of North Carolina Hospitals oncology/hemotology department.
Many patients live much longer.
When a tumor outgrows its own food supply, it sends out a protein growth factor that attracts new blood vessel growth.
The new blood supply feeds the tumor to help it grow bigger. Avastin interferes with the signals that attract new blood vessels, much like a child safety plug in an electrical socket.
"It occupies the socket, but it doesn't allow the juices to flow. So it starves these cells for something that they need in order to grow," Goldberg said.
Without the needed blood supply, the tumor shrinks. That is the benefit, but the most serious possible side effects include congestive heart failure and internal bleeding.
So what can patients with advanced colorectal cancer hope for?
"Ten years ago, we almost never could say that a person with advanced colorectal cancer had the opportunity for cure," Goldberg said. "Now we can say that some of those patients have the opportunity for cure."
Sometimes there is a delay in getting medications once they have been approved by the FDA. That is not the case with Avastin, which is already available.