Oncologists are divided on whether to use the drug Avastin to treat advanced breast cancer, according to an international survey published in the journal Cancer.
The doctors' responses come after a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted in 2010 to pull the drug's use for metastatic breast cancer. The FDA vote was based on studies that Avastin wasn't as effective in prolonging patients' lives as previously thought -- slowing disease progression by
only 2 or 3 months instead of by 6 months -- and having side effects such as ulcers and blood clots.
In the recently published survey, about half of oncologists said they would continue to use Avastin, at least under certain circumstances, even if the FDA's final word on the drug is to reject it.
One-fifth of survey respondents said they wouldn't use Avastin at all.
Some insurance companies have stopped paying for the $8,000-per-month drug.
But Medicare officials say they will cover it, no matter what the FDA's decision.
Some doctors, like Eric Winer of the Breast Oncology Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, have already cut back on the use of Avastin, even before the FDA's vote. "Like the [FDA advisory] panel, we were paying attention to the data coming out from other clinical trials," he said.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg is expected to announce the agency's final decision soon. The use of Avastin for lung, kidney, and brain cancers has not been challenged.