Avastin, an ovarian cancer drug treatment that can saves lives, but at what cost to ovarian cancer patients and their families?

Avastin, an ovarian cancer drug treatment that can saves lives, but at what cost to ovarian cancer patients and their families?

Also known as the silent killer, ovarian cancer causes about 800 deaths every year in Australia. At the same time another 1200 women are diagnosed yearly with the condition, many of whom only discover the disease after it has spread extensively and is challenging to treat.

The difficulty in diagnosing ovarian cancer in early stages arises from the fact that associated symptoms are usually vague and can often been generic issues like fatigue, bloating and appetite changes. For many women, the symptoms do not present a problem and by the time they start to concern some, the cancer has often spread into the abdominal cavity.

For the treatment of ovarian cancer, a drug known as Avastin has been manufactured. However, it is not yet subsidised by the Australian health system with costs coming up to $4,000 every three weeks for the patients. Avastin has been approved for treating patients with newly diagnosed advanced ovarian cancer as a first line treatment but is not registered to be administered to patients who develop a recurrence of the disease. If approved for treating late stage ovarian cancer patients, 22 doses of the drug will be covered.

The drug works by preventing the growth of new blood vessels, a practice that starves the cancer. Avastin both blocks the production of VEGF, a substance produced by tumours that enhances blood vessel growth, as well as prevents blood vessel formation. Although Avastin has anti-cancer properties on its own, it has been observed to work best when used in conjunction with chemotherapy.

Clinical trials have shown an improved time to disease progression when using Avastin, however that did not improve the overall survival rate for patients.

Dosage for Avastin is gauged based on the individual’s weight so will vary for every patient. Since the drug is not covered by Medicare, users are advised to approach private health insurers to share the costs. Based on the individual’s weight the cost may add up to $5,000 per course. And for patients whose yearly costs of Avastin exceed, $43,000, the remaining will be paid for by Roche, the drug’s manufacturing company.

For Gabriela Cerny, the cost of affording Avastin without any rebate has been hefty. The fact that she has received aid from a drug company that shares the cost of one of every three doses, has made it possible for Ms. Cerny to make use of Avastin to treat her condition. On her own the treatment would not have been possible.

Avastin is currently subsidised in many European countries including Britain and Slovakia making it very frustrating for Australian patients to not be able to access the drug more easily.

Ms. Cerny, like other patients suffering from ovarian cancer, holds the opinion that Avastin should be subsidised so that all eligible individuals may access its life saving benefits easily and not just a few, handful others who have the financial means to do so.

Because of the difficulty in diagnosing the cancer earlier, women with a family history are advised to have regular check-ups.


1) New Ovarian Cancer Drug now available – Avastin: http://www.obermair.info/latest-news/blog/new-ovarian-cancer-drug-now-available-avastin/#.U3DcfHbueSo

2) Cancer patient pays $1300 a week on medicine to stay alive for son: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/north-shore/cancer-patient-pays-1300-a-week-on-medicine-to-stay-alive-for-son/story-fngr8h9d-1226750356018

3) Don’t let them die waiting: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/dont-let-them-die-waiting/story-fni0ffsx-1226905096973