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Avastin: New Drug for Cervical Cancer Approved by FDA

The chemotherapy drug Avastin, made by Genentech, (a unit of Roche) was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use against late-stage cervical cancer. This is the seventh indication for the drug, which is also used to treat other cancers like colon cancer, lung cancer and kidney cancer. This drug contributed to a revenue of $6.25 billion last year for Roche. Avastin works by cutting off blood supply to cancerous cells which prevent the growth of new cancer cells.

The F.D.A. approved the drug for usage in women with persistent cervical cancer, recurrent cervical cancer or has metastasized. The new use is approved for combination with paclitaxel and cisplatin or in combination with paclitaxel and topotecan. The National Cancer Institute estimates that over 12,300 women in the United States will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year and about 4,000 will die from the disease.

Cervical cancer is due to the abnormal growth of cells from the cervix that have the ability to invade or spread to other parts of the body. There are typically no symptoms early on and late symptoms may include: abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain or pain during sexual intercourse. By then, it is already too late. Hence it is recommended that women undergo annual pap smear for early detection of the disease. The Papanicolaou test abbreviated as pap smear, is a screening method to detect potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous cells in the endocervical canal of the female reproductive system. Unusual findings are usually followed up by more diagnostic procedures and interventions that aim to prevent the progression to cervical cancer.

Infection by Human papillomavirus (HPV) which appears to be involved in the development of more than 90% of cases can be prevented by vaccines which are available and marketed under the name Cervarix and Gardasil manufactured by Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline respectively.

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