Breast cancer drug is worth a fight

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Every year, breast cancer impacts tens of thousands of women throughout the United States, and the chance of a woman contracting this disease in her lifetime is one in eight.

As a child, my own wife Wendy lost her mother to this disease, and her loss serves as a constant reminder to me on how important it is to raise awareness about early detection and prevention, increase cancer research and expand access to care for this disease that affects so many of our family, friends and neighbors.

That’s why I was alarmed by recent reports that the drug Avastin, a treatment for metastatic (stage IV) breast cancer, could soon be taken off-label for breast cancer treatment by the Food and Drug Administration. But I was even more alarmed that the FDA’s advisory committee may soon pull this drug not because of new safety concerns, but because of cost-effectiveness.

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I find it outrageous that a government panel would put a price on those precious months for the families that are living through the trauma of a losing a mother, wife, sister, daughter or aunt. Taking Avastin off-label for breast cancer treatment is essentially government rationing because once a drug is off-label, most insurance companies and Medicare will no longer cover the cost of the treatment. So even if a breast cancer patient meets the criteria of a woman who might respond positively to Avastin, once it is taken off-label, it is highly unlikely she would have access to the drug.

Avastin has been shown to extend the life of metastatic breast cancer patients for three to five months. For those battling terminal cancer, every additional day that they can beat the disease and extend their time with their loved ones is valuable and treasured.

The decision on whether a patient should use a possibly life-extending drug is a decision that should be made solely between a doctor and patient, not a government panel. And like so many of you, and I have strong reservations about any recommendation that would take life-extending options off the table for these patients. That’s why this week I sent a letter to Dr. Richard Pazdur, head of the FDA’s Office of Oncology Drug Product, strongly expressing my concerns about the FDA’s pending decision that could deny breast cancer patients access to Avastin.

And I will continue to work to make sure breast cancer patients aren’t denied access to treatment that may extend their lives and their time with their loved ones.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter is a Republican representing Louisiana in the U.S. Senate. He can be reached at his Washington, D.C., Office, 516 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510 or by phone at 202-224-4623.