The cancer drug Avastin may extend the lives of patients with aggressive cervical cancer, a new study finds.
The findings might change the way these patients are treated and improve outcomes for women "who have previously had very limited treatment options," study lead researcher Dr. Krishnansu Tewari, said in a news release from the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI).
The research was sponsored by the NCI and received support from Genentech Inc., which makes Avastin.
The study included 452 women with recurrent, advanced or persistent cervical cancer that was not curable with standard chemotherapy. Patients who received Avastin with their chemotherapy lived an average of 17 months, compared with just over 13 months for those treated with chemotherapy alone, the investigators found.
The patients who received Avastin were given a dose of 15 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, which was administered in the vein with their chemotherapy treatment. The dose was given one day every three weeks until the patient's cancer progressed or levels of the drug in the body became too high.
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Patients who received Avastin did have more side effects than those who didn't take the drug, the researchers noted, and the side effects were consistent with those known to be associated with Avastin -- events such as bleeding, clotting and gastrointestinal issues.
Avastin also comes with a hefty price tag, about $5,000 per month.
Still, the increase in survival seen with Avastin "is welcome news as progress has been very difficult against this cancer," Dr. Jeff Abrams, clinical director of NCI's Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis, said in the news release.
Another expert not connected to the study agreed.
Dr. Elizabeth Poynor, a gynecologic oncologist and pelvic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, noted that women with advanced cervical cancers that prove resistant to standard treatments "have traditionally been a very difficult group to treat effectively with regimens available." She said the new study "provides new opportunities to develop and further refine treatments for this group."
The data has been submitted for presentation in June at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Research that has not undergone peer review is typically considered preliminary until such review is completed.
More than 12,000 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States in 2013 and over 4,000 women will die of the disease.