It’s tough to interview a dead woman: The Avastin controversy

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November 19, 2011

By Steven Greer, MD

The mainstream TV news is botching the coverage of the decision to revoke Roche’s Avastin to treat breast cancer. Most of the TV reports all started the same way, by interviewing a breast cancer survivor who swears that Avastin is the reason she is alive.

Of course, it is a well studied phenomenon for patients to incorrectly attribute cause and effect of therapies, and that is why scientists attempt to conduct more objective clinical trials. In doing so with Avastin, multiple studies revealed that Avastin not only was ineffective at prolonging life, but also increased death and serious adverse events related to blood clots and hypertension caused by Avastin.

If a terminal breast cancer patient has just a few years left to live, is it ethical to risk debilitating stroke in exchange for no survival benefit? Moreover, the $100,000 or more annual cost of Avastin causes many families to lose a significant amount of their savings and wealth, even if they have insurance. After the breast cancer patient passes away, the hospital bills keep coming to the next of kin.

It is tough to interview the women who have died from strokes and heart attacks related to Avastin. However, the TV news could at least mention that the adverse events outweigh the benefit. Only CBS’s Dr. LaPook did a good job at stating these risks. ABC has an excellent doctor on staff, Dr. Besser, but he was not assigned to this story, and the ABC coverage was subsequently egregious, beginning with the scenario described above (i.e. highlighting the Avastin survivor myth). NBC benched Dr. Nancy Snyderman and used Robert Bazell and a breast cancer expert.

To learn more about the actual clinical study data that do not support using Avastin for breast cancer, we refer you to our 2007 WSJ video and companion text.

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