Health Team

Despite studies, some breast cancer patients want drug treatment

Posted September 20, 2010 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 20, 2010 6:51 p.m. EDT

Christi Turnage might have end-stage breast cancer, but the mother of four isn't at the end of her life.

She credits the cancer treatment Avastin, an antibody that has been used successfully in colon and lung cancer patients. It works by cutting off a tumor's blood supply.

In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration temporarily approved the drug for treatment of breast cancer.

"It's given me my life back," Turnage says.

But recent studies have found the drug, also known as Bevacizumab, wasn't effective in most of the women who participated, and there were potentially life-threatening side effects, such as internal bleeding.

"In totality, Avastin did not improve the overall survival, the life expectancy of women with breast cancer," said Dr. Neal Meropol, chief of hematology and oncology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

In July, a group of experts recommended that Avastin's approval for breast cancer be revoked. The FDA has delayed a decision until at least December so that more research can be reviewed.

Although research shows Avastin doesn't work well in many breast cancer patients, there are doctors who say that the drug has been vital to some women.

"The reality is I have patients who have been kept alive for years on the drug," said Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, a physician at Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center's radiation oncology division.

Turnage believes Avastin has kept her alive, and that's why she helped get thousands of people to sign a petition asking the FDA to keep the drug available to patients like her.

Genentech, the company that makes Avastin, believes it should remain an option for women with breast cancer.

If the FDA revokes approval, insurance companies might stop paying for the drug, which can cost more than $8,000 a month.