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Drug offers first hope for advanced cervical cancer

Existing chemotherapy regimes are largely ineffective against advanced stages of cervical cancer, which leads to the deaths of 250,000 women worldwide every year.

Image: wavebreakmedia via Shutterstock

A NEW CERVICAL cancer drug offers the first good hope of extending life for women with advanced stages of the disease, a study published Sunday has found.

Existing chemotherapy regimes are largely ineffective against advanced stages of cervical cancer, which kills 250,000 women worldwide every year.

That’s why early screening is so critical — regular Pap smears have managed to reduce deaths in wealthy countries by 80 percent.

“Women with advanced cervical cancer don’t have many options,” said lead study author Krishnansu Sujata Tewari, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of California Irvine.

“We finally have a drug that helps women live longer.”

The study found that women who were given the drug bevacizumab (Avastin) along with their chemotherapy prolonged survival to an average of 17 months, compared with 13.3 months for those who only received chemotherapy.

Tumour shrinkage rates were 48 percent for patients who received the drug, compared with 36 percent for those who did not.

The results also indicated that the survival benefit did not come at the cost of diminished quality of life.

“This is also possibly a first step toward turning cervical cancer into a chronic disease, helping women live longer and allowing time for additional treatments that could further slow the cancer’s progression and improve survival,” Tewari said.

The phase III clinical trial separated the 452 patients into four treatment arms but found no significant differences in survival between those receiving cisplatin or topotecan (Hycamtin) chemotherapy treatments.

Genentech’s drug bevacizumab is currently approved by US regulators for use in several advanced cancers but has not yet been approved for gynaecological cancer. It works to block blood vessel formation in the tumour.

Some 4,000 women die of cervical cancer every year in the United States.

The study was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago.

It offers “the first ever treatment to extend the lives of women with aggressive cervical cancer,” said ASCO spokeswoman and gynaecologic cancers expert Carol Aghajanian.

- © AFP, 2013

Read: Medical card holders 50% more likely to have abnormal smear test result
Read: Women over 45 ‘less likely to have smear tests’
Read: Older women not availing of important cervical cancer screenings – report

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