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Health Information One-Two Punch for
Advanced Breast Cancer

There's good news. According to the American Cancer Society, the rate of breast cancer deaths in the United States is falling at a rate of about 2 percent per year. Many speculate that this is due to increased early detection and advances in treatment.

Rush is contributing to these advances with a therapy that restricts oxygen supply to the breast cancer tissue. A study published in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, found that inhibiting the growth of blood vessels that supply tumors slows the progression of metastatic breast cancer. The research was from a large clinical trial of Avastin, an anti-angiogenic therapy. The study found that Avastin in combination with chemotherapy significantly prolongs progression-free survival for women with breast cancer compared to chemotherapy alone.

"This therapy is a one-two punch. You hit the tumor with the chemo and sabotage new blood vessel growth by restricting its oxygen supply with Avastin," says Melody Cobleigh, MD, co-author of the study and director of the Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Breast Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "This is a noteworthy advance in cancer treatment."

Avastin is a therapeutic antibody designed to inhibit vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein that plays an important role in growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) and the maintenance of existing blood vessels throughout the lifecycle of a tumor. By inhibiting VEGF, Avastin is designed to interfere with the blood supply to a tumor, which is thought to be critical to a tumor's ability to grow and spread in the body.

Avastin not only slowed the growth of the tumor, it also doubled the remission rate (the shrinkage of tumors by 50 percent or more) compared with chemotherapy alone. With chemotherapy, 25 percent of tumors responded; with the combination of chemotherapy and Avastin, 49 percent responded.

Rush University Medical Center has been involved in the study of Avastin from the very beginning, participating in the Phase I, Phase II and Phase III studies of the drug. The next step is studying the drug in the adjuvant setting to determine if it can help decrease the risk of cancer recurrence.

"The tumor can't grow bigger than the size of a sesame seed without an oxygen supply," said Cobleigh. "And patients can stay on Avastin as long at it works. It is not a chemotherapy drug so it has minimal toxicity. "

Rush University Medical Center participated in the clinical trial, which was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and conducted by a network of researchers led by the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG).

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • Looking for information about cancer care at Rush, visit the Cancer Programs home page.
  • For more information about complementary care for cancer at Rush visit our Cancer Integrative Medicine Program home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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