The Effects of a Controversial Cancer Drug

Diana Zuckerman, PhD, The Washington Post: August 22, 2010

The Aug. 16 front-page article¬†“Breast cancer drug in dispute”¬†was a balanced look at Avastin, but the dueling claims were confusing. Here’s the most important issue: Research shows that breast cancer patients taking Avastin don’t live as long and they have more serious side effects than patients taking placebo. That is why Avastin should not be used for breast cancer, even if it were free. Its cost is not the main point, and politicians need to understand that just because a drug is expensive doesn’t mean it improves health.

The manufacturer is correct that Avastin can delay the progression of breast cancer. So why aren’t Avastin patients living longer? Data indicate that it’s because women taking Avastin are more likely to die from side effects such as stroke and heart disease. If a breast cancer patient takes Avastin, it will not improve her chances of living longer, but her quality of life is more likely to be harmed because of the debilitating conditions linked to the drug.

Avastin may help some breast cancer patients, but it appears that nobody can predict which ones it will help and which ones it will hurt. The research indicates that it harms more breast cancer patients than it helps, which is why its approval for breast cancer should be rescinded. If the manufacturer wants to help breast cancer patients, it should do the research necessary to show who is helped by Avastin and seek approval just for those types of patients.

Diana Zuckerman, Washington

The writer is president of the Cancer Prevention and Treatment Fund of the National Research Center for Women & Families.