A bevacizumab injection is a solution administered to patients being treated for some types of cancers that have metastasized. It is given with chemotherapy to treat colorectal, lung, and kidney cancer. Glioblastoma patients whose cancer has progressed despite prior treatment may also be given a bevacizumab injection. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially approved this treatment for metastasized breast cancer but withdrew this indication in June 2011. In the United States, this medication is marketed under the brand name Avastin®.
This medication is an antiangiogenic agent. It stops the formation of blood vessels that provide a tumor with oxygen and nutrients. This may help slow and stop tumor growth and metastization. As a result, patients are more likely to live longer.
Patients receive a bevacizumab injection through a vein. Doses are administered in a health care center by a nurse or a doctor. The first dose typically takes 90 minutes, while subsequent doses take less than an hour. Subsequent doses are administered only if no serious problems develop after receiving the first. A bevacizumab injection is usually given once every two weeks for colorectal cancer and once every three weeks for lung cancer.
In patients with metastatic colorectal cancer, this injection is part of first-line therapy with chemotherapy. It is also used with chemotherapy to treat patients with advanced nonsquamous non-small cell lung cancer. Individuals with metastatic kidney cancer take a bevacizumab injection with interferon alfa. Those with glioblastoma take these injections alone when this cancer progresses despite prior treatment.
In addition to its use as a cancer treatment, this drug may also be given to patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is a progressive eye disease that affects the patient’s ability to see straight ahead. As a result, it can become difficult to drive and read. Other eye diseases, like diabetic retinopathy, may also be treated with this medication, but in relatively smaller and cheaper doses than those required for cancer patients.
The most common side effects of a bevacizumab injection are high blood pressure and nose bleed. There are several serious and possibly fatal side effects, such as massive bleeding; perforations of the nose, stomach, and intestines; and blood clots. Major cardiovascular events, kidney damage, and wounds that are slow to heal have also been experienced by patients taking this medication. Some patients develop reversible posterior leukoencephalopathy syndrome while using bevacizumab.
Although treatment with bevacizumab injection remains available for patients with colorectal, kidney, and lung cancers, the FDA withdrew its approval of the drug for metastasized breast cancer in June 2011. The FDA based its decision on the results of required clinical trials of the medication. The results indicated that the addition of a bevacizumab injection with chemotherapy did not prolong patients’ lives and showed only a slight delay in tumor growth. This small benefit did not outweigh the increase in serious side effects experienced once the injection was added to treatment.
There is anecdotal evidence that some women with breast cancer benefited from treatment with a bevacizumab injection. Such evidence is difficult to substantiate outside the clinical trial setting, however. Doctors can continue to use the injection to treat breast cancer, but American health insurance companies are not likely pay for it. Breast cancer patients and their oncologists can consider the other available treatment options instead of Avastin®.