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Treatment Combination Improves Breast Cancer Survival Rates, New University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Study Finds

PITTSBURGH, Dec. 11, 2009 – Patients who are being treated for a certain type of advanced breast cancer for the second time may get better results if a drug that interferes with the blood supply to tumors is added to their therapy, according to a University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) study that will be presented on Dec. 11 at the 2009 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Bevacizumab, also known as Avastin, works by inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels that would supply tumors with oxygen and nutrients needed to grow, explained Adam Brufsky, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of clinical investigations at UPCI, and director, Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center at Magee Womens Hospital of UPMC.

“Adding bevacizumab to standard chemotherapy improved the survival, or at least the progression-free survival, of women with metastatic breast cancer,” said Dr. Brufsky. “We hope that this combination can serve as another possible treatment option for patients when their first line of treatment is unsuccessful, but first we need to consider the results of the trial in terms of how best to use these drugs against this type of cancer.”

The study included 684 patients at 211 sites in 19 countries. Patients were eligible if they had received one prior treatment for advanced breast cancer and were diagnosed with HER-2 negative disease with no spread to the central nervous system. Patients were randomly assigned to receive chemotherapy in combination with either bevacizumab or a placebo.

According to Dr. Brufsky, the results were unsurprising. Two prior clinical studies have shown the benefit of adding bevacizumab to chemotherapy as an initial treatment for advanced breast cancer. This particular trial was designed to see if the treatment would be safe and effective as a second treatment option.

Nearly 200,000 individuals will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, and over 40,000 will die from the disease.

This trial was sponsored by Genentech.

As the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in western Pennsylvania, UPCI is a recognized leader in providing innovative cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment; bio-medical research; compassionate patient care and support; and community-based outreach services. UPCI investigators are world-renowned for their work in clinical and basic cancer research.

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