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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Potential Harm From Avastin

Cancerous tumors grow and spread by creating their own blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) is a protein produced by normal cells and over-produced by cancer cells. They send it out to nearby blood vessels, causing those vessels to grow more vessels. These new ones grow towards the source of the VEGF, the tumor, and supply it with more blood. That gives it more oxygen and more nutrients, enabling it to expand and repeat the whole angiogenesis process.

Avastin (bevacizumab) is a drug designed to starve a tumor by blocking its production of VEGF. Avastin binds to VEGF and prevents it from binding to other receptors. This prevents it from stimulating new blood vessel growth.

Severe Side Effects

It sounds like a good idea, and many doctors strongly support Avastin as a good adjunct to traditional chemotherapy. However, Avastin has some severe side effects.

  • A GI (gastrointestinal) perforation – a hole in the stomach or intestines;
  • Severe bleeding (in the stomach, brain, vagina, nose or lungs) that can be fatal;
  • Kidney malfunction that can be fatal, resulting from too much protein in the urine -- The June issue of the journal of the American Society of Nephrology had an article about Avastin and its harm to the kidneys.
  • Vision impairment, possibly blindness;
  • Impaired wound healing;
  • Nervous system impairment, causing headaches, seizures, mental confusion, and high blood pressure.

High blood pressure itself can lead to further problems, such as stroke, tremors, and breathing difficulty. The list of less severe side effects is very long and a few examples are nosebleeds, dry skin, back pain, and skin inflammation.

Targeted Therapy

Avastin, produced by Genentech, was FDA-approved in 2004 (with the approval extended twice in 2006 and again in 2008) and it is part of a new group of cancer drugs called “targeted therapies”. Unlike traditional chemotherapy drugs, which attack all body cells, drugs like Avastin are supposed to zero in on the cancer cells and leave healthy cells untouched.

However, because of its long list of serious side effects, Avastin has a black-box warning, the FDA’s highest level of warning. FDA approval was very specific and Avastin is to be given in combination with IV chemotherapy in certain circumstances for certain types of cancer.

If a doctor recommends Avastin for you or a loved one, be sure to read the labeling and familiarize yourself with the possible side effects. Also make sure that your doctor knows if you have had any recent surgery or injury because Avastin interferes with wound healing. And make sure your doctor knows of any condition related to the liver, kidneys, heart or blood.

If you notice any Avastin side effects, call your doctor immediately for your safety’s sake.

If you have been harmed by a defective drug and would like to know more about your legal options, please contact us today for a free case review.

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posted by Benjamin A. Irwin at 11:18 AM

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