Popular Cancer Drug Provides No Benefit to Older Patients, Study Finds

Popular Cancer Drug Provides No Benefit to Older Patients, Study FindsMedicare patients who have been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer appear to show no signs of improvement from adding the cancer drug Avastin to normal chemotherapy, a new study from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute suggests.

According to HealthDay, earlier tests of the drug showed it did improve survival, however that is not the case in patients 65 or older. Still, most patients who are diagnosed with the disease are in fact over the age of 65, and Medicare still covers the high cost of the drug.

"A drug that we were just ecstatic about in 2006, we have to be more circumspect about," said lead researcher Dr. Deborah Schrag, a Dana-Farber oncologist.

Schrag added that the drug should be used judiciously, and noted that "older patients should discuss it with their doctors, but we cannot say it provides a survival advantage based on these data."

Genentech, the maker of Avastin, released a statement following the results of the cancer center's study, stating that "Genentech agrees that certain people, such as those older than 65, are typically underrepresented in randomized, controlled clinical trials used for regulatory submissions. To address this, we collect and present data on the 'real world' use of medicines through large phase 4 prospective observational studies, which even when well-designed, also have limitations, including non-randomization of study participants."

Experts stated that the cost of taking Avastin should also be noted, especially after it has shown to provide no benefits for the majority of patients who use it. In 2011, reports estimated the cost of taking the drug to be between $4,000 and $9,000 per month.

The study was released on April 18 in an issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the study, Schrag and her team randomly assigned more than 4,000 Medicare patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer to two different groups. One group received Avastin and chemotherapy, while the second was treated with only chemotherapy. One-year survival rates for patients receiving Avastin were 39.6 percent, compared to 40.1 percent for chemotherapy alone.

"It is critical that, to the extent possible, we study treatments separately in groups known to differ in responses, rather than subject all to average responses," said Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association.

According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, 226,160 new cases of lung cancer have been reported so far in 2012, and 160,430 patients have died from the disease.