Avastin – wonder drug or serious risk?

November 22, 2011 at 12:08 am 1 comment

Since posting this morning, I’ve come across some more information on the BBC news site – please see end of story.

A few days ago, the New York Times reported that the Food and Drug Authority in the USA had announced a ban on the drug Avastin for use in advanced Breast Cancer. This was because it was found to be not improving survival time, and was causing serious side-effects such as high blood pressure and haemorrhaging. It is, however, still able to used for treating other kinds of cancer in the USA.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that our Therapeutic Goods Administration is ‘reviewing’ the information from the FDA, but at this stage, it can still be used (in combination with another drug, Paclitaxel) to treat advanced breast cancer. It is not available on the PBS anyway, so, no doubt, it is an expensive option.

The question that remains with this and so many other medications is, of course, when is the cure worse than the disease?  I had chemotherapy 20 year ago for Breast Cancer, and it was not a pleasant ride!  Even though treatment has improved out of sight since then, many drugs are heavy-duty, and there is often a thin dividing line between helping the patient and actually causing other health issues, or occasionally even death. In my case, I chose to have chemo, knowing that it would ravage my body, and of course I don’t regret that, but do doctors really inform their patients of all the possible side effects of their medication in order that they can make an informed choice?

But even before that, are pharmaceutical trials really robust enough?  Should not every precautionary trail be taken before releasing new drugs on the market?  I understand that developing new medications is a costly and time-sapping business, and that trials must be approved as ethical (and the outcomes presumably statistically significant ) – but the rewards appear to be very great for the pharmaceutical companies. We all want new wonder drugs as soon as possible, but perhaps we need to hasten more slowly…

Additional information from the BBC news-site:

Other side effects of Avastin include: heart attack and heart failure, plus tears in the stomach and intestines.

The original approval by the FDA had been given under a special approval that allows patients to begin treatment with a drug whilst it is still undergoing studies because initial results are so promising. Originally, it looked as though Avastin could hold the growth of breast cancer by about 5 1/2 months, but this has been lowered to between one and three months. The BBC quotes Ms Margaret Hamburg of the FDA: “Sometimes the results of rigorous testing can be disappointing”.  However, not everyone agrees with the decision. Dr Elisa Port (co-director of the Dubin Breast Center of Mount Sinai Hospital, New York), says that “There absolutely may be subsets of carefully chosen breast cancer patients who benefit from Avastin.”

I say again: hasten slowly.

Entry filed under: Health matters. Tags: , .

Voluntary Euthanasia Bill Freedom to choose doesn’t give freedom to all

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Pauline cos grove  |  November 25, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    Yes Jude I have read this and thank you for sharing this I liked it very much Pauline


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