Bevacizumab, sometimes called by the drug name Avastin®, is a treatment for women who have recurrent or advanced stage cervical cancer. This treatment does not cure cervical cancer; it is a life-extending drug. On average, treatment with bevacizumab can lengthen life by approximately four months. However, as this is only an average it means some women may not get any benefit, while for some they may get more than four months benefit. It is also used to treat advanced bowel, breast and ovarian cancer.
Bevacizumab is a type of drug called a monoclonal antibody. It works by preventing cancer cells from growing by blocking the blood supply that the cancer cells receive. Cancer Research UK has more detailed information about how monoclonal antibodies work to help treat cancer . When bevacizumab is used to treat cervical cancer, it cannot be given on its own. In England, according to the NHS funding criteria, it must be given in combination with the chemotherapy drugs carboplatin or cisplatin, and paclitaxel. In Scotland, it must be given in combination with the chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and paclitaxel.
Early evidence has shown that for some women who take the drug there is an increase in the time between them completing the treatment and the disease relapsing (called the progression-free survival) and for a few there is an increase in overall life expectancy. However, this is at the expense of some increased toxicity. This means that you may experience unwanted side effects by taking bevacizumab. There is currently no way of predicting who may or may not gain benefit from the use of bevacizumab, or who will get side effects. You can read more about the possible side effects of bevacizumab on Macmillan Cancer Support's website .
Bevacizumab is given through a drip similar to chemotherapy. Usually this drug can be given for up to and no more than 10 cycles. Your oncologist will be able to let you know if this treatment is suitable for your stage and type of cancer.
Currently in England, you can be prescribed bevacizumab on the NHS. In September 2015 the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) briefly delisted bevacizumab, meaning it would no longer be paid for by the NHS. However, it was reinstated on the CDF list on 4th November 2015 making it once again available in England on the NHS and your oncology team will make the application for this course of treatment on your behalf.
On the 9th May 2016 the Scottish Medicines Consortium Committee also approved the use of bevacizumab for advanced cervical cancer by NHS Scotland. Your oncology team will be able to advise you on this.
Northern Ireland and Wales are not currently funded to prescribe bevacizumab. In both countries your clinician would need to put in an Individual Funding Request if they wished to prescribe the drug. It is possible that as more information is gained about the drug the funding situations may change.
You may wish to visit our online forum where we now have a private area specifically for women living with advanced cervical cancer.
- Cancer Research UK, 2014. About monoclonal antibodies. www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancers-in-general/treatment/biological/types/about-monoclonal-antibodies. Accessed: 06.11.2015.
- Macmillan, 2013. Bevacizumab (Avastin®). www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Cancertreatment/Treatmenttypes/Biologicaltherapies/Monoclonalantibodies/Bevacizumab.aspx. Accessed: 06.11.2015.