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Avastin for radiation-induced necrosis

gdpawel's picture
Posts: 538
Joined: May 2001

When brain tumors are treated with radiation therapy, there is always a risk of radiation-induced necrosis of healthy brain tissue. Insidious and potentially fatal, radiation necrosis of the brain may develop months or even years after irradiation.

This poorly understood side effect can occur even when the most stringent measures are taken to avoid exposing healthy tissue to harmful levels of radiation. In most cases, radiation necrosis of the brain occurs at random, without known genetic or other predisposing risk factors. The only treatment options typically available for radiation necrosis of the brain are surgery to remove dead tissue and use of the steroid dexamethasone to provide limited symptom control. But clinicians have not found a way to stop the progression of necrosis, despite having tested a range of therapies including anticoagulants, hyperbaric oxygen, and high-dose anti-inflammatory regimens.

However, recent studies at M. D. Anderson have shown that the monoclonal antibody bevacizumab (Avastin) may be able to stop radiation necrosis of the brain and allow some of the damage to be reversed. Victor A. Levin, M.D., a professor in the Department of Neuro-Oncology and the senior researcher on the studies, said the findings suggest that radiation necrosis of the brain can be successfully managed—and perhaps even prevented—with bevacizumab or similar drugs.

The need for such a breakthrough is as old as radiation therapy for cancers in the brain. “No matter what we do or how good we do it, we know a small percentage of patients who receive radiation therapy to the central nervous system will suffer late-occurring radiation necrosis,” Dr. Levin said. “We used to think it was the dose that was causing problems. Then we did a study and found that there was little to no relation to radiation dose or radiation volume—the necrosis occurred simply by chance. So it is impossible to say which patients will develop this problem; we just have to monitor them and hope for the best.”

Like necrosis, the discovery that bevacizumab has an effect on necrosis can also be attributed to chance. Bevacizumab, a newer drug that prevents blood vessel growth in tumors by blocking vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), was originally approved in the United States for the treatment of metastatic colon cancer and non–small cell lung cancer. An M. D. Anderson group that included Dr. Levin decided to test the drug in patients who had VEGF-expressing brain tumors. “Some of these patients also had necrosis from prior radiation therapy, and we were struck by the positive response of those patients to bevacizumab,” Dr. Levin said. “We had never seen such a regression of necrotic lesions with any other drug like we did in those patients.” The observation prompted the researchers to design a placebo-controlled, double-blind, phase II trial sponsored by the U.S. Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program in which bevacizumab would be tested specifically for the treatment of radiation necrosis of the brain.

The trial is small, having accrued 13 of a planned 16 patients, and is limited to those with progressive symptoms, lower-grade primary brain tumors, and head and neck cancers. But the results have been unlike anything the researchers have seen before in radiation necrosis therapy. All of the patients receiving bevacizumab responded almost immediately to treatment, with regression of necrotic lesions evident on magnetic resonance images, while none of the patients receiving the placebo showed a response. The results were striking, and all of the patients who switched from placebo showed a response to bevacizumab as well. So far, responses have persisted over 6 months even after the end of bevacizumab treatment.

Side effects seen in the trial so far included venous thromboembolism in one patient, small vessel thrombosis in two patients, and a large venous sinus thrombosis in one patient. Dr. Levin is unsure whether the side effects were caused by therapy or the radiation necrosis itself. “We’re also not absolutely sure what is causing the positive effects against the radiation necrosis,” he said. “We presume it’s related to the release of cytokines like VEGF, since bevacizumab is very specific and only reduces VEGF levels. We think aberrant production of VEGF is involved with radiation necrosis of the brain, and the fact that even short treatment with bevacizumab seems to turn off the cycle of radiation damage further confirms the central role of VEGF in the process.”

The multidisciplinary research team has also postulated that radiation therapy damages astrocytes, a cell type involved in various brain functions, and causes them to leak VEGF. This leaked VEGF might then cause further damage to brain cells and further leakage of VEGF. “It gets to be a very vicious cycle,” Dr. Levin said. “The question is, is that all that’s going on?”

Dr. Levin hopes that the answers to that question and others may lead to preventive measures against radiation necrosis, beyond what is already done to control the development of radiation itself. Perhaps bevacizumab can be given in low doses before radiation or intermittently afterward to reduce VEGF levels and protect the brain from abnormally high levels of the protein. He hopes such approaches can be tested in future studies. “Just the fact that bevacizumab works has helped us understand so much more about what happens in radiation necrosis,” he said. “Everything we’ve tried up until now has been a brick wall.”

Source: OncoLog, May 2009, Vol. 54, No. 5

Visualizing the effects of Avastin (bevacizumab)


gdpawel's picture
Posts: 538
Joined: May 2001

Avastin blocks VEGF and causes existing microcapillaries to die. This is what is measured with the AngioRx assay, death of existing endothelial cells of microcapillaries, and associated cells. Microcapillary blood vessels run throughout the brain in close proximity to brain cells.

Some clinical work on Avastin suggests that there could be several possible mechanisms for Avastin, including potentially decreasing the oncotic pressure within the center of a necrotic tumor, which can limit the ability of the drug it is given with to be delivered into the tumor.

The oncotic pressure (or colloid osmotic pressure) is a form of osmotic pressure exerted by proteins in blood plasma that usually tends to pull water into the circulatory system. Because "large" plasma proteins cannot easily cross through the capillary walls, their effect on the osmotic pressure of the capillary interiors will, to some extent, balance out the tendency for fluid to leak out of the capillaries (oncotic pressure tends to pull fluid into the capillaries).

A drop in vascular permeability induces trans-vascular gradients in oncotic and hydrostatic pressure iin blood vessels. The induced hydrostatic pressure gradient improves the penetration of large molecules (Avastin is a large molecule drug) into vessels.

Scientists from MD Anderson (and other institutions) have found out that they could treat radiation-induced necrosis of the brain with Avastin. Recent studies have shown that Avastin may be able to stop radiation necrosis of the brain and allow some of the damage to be reversed.

I can see where radiation can allow the lining of the brain to become permeable to VEGF, and VEGF can induce the brain cells to make more VEGF, and self-propagating brain damage ensues. And Avastin can disable VEGF.

The MD Anderson research team postulates that radiation therapy damages astrocytes, a cell type involved in various brain functions, and causes them to leak VEGF. This leaked VEGF might then cause further damage to brain cells and further leakage of VEGF. And the ultimate question is "is that all that's going on?"

With Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT), wound healing requires oxygen delivery to the injured tissues. Radiation damaged tissue has lost blood supply and is oxygen deprived. HBOT provides a better healing environment and leads to the growth of new blood vessels in a process called re-vascularization. HBOT acts as a drug when 100 percent oxygen is delivered at pressures greater than atmospheric (sea level) pressure to a patient in an enclosed chamber.

If this is the case, the judicious application of Avastin can normalize the vasculature by pruning the immature vessels and fortifying the remaining ones. Normalized vasculature is less tortuous and the vessels are more uniformally covered by pericytes (in capillaries which regulate the blood-brain barrier) and basement membrane (thin sheet of fibers which lines the interior surface of blood vessels).

Source: Cell Function Analysis

Posts: 1
Joined: Jan 2013

Thank you for the article on Avastin and the study of how this drug may be used for necrosis of the brain.   I have a family member that has been dealing with meningioma tumors for the past 6 years that have been treated with surgery and radiation but is now also dealing with necrosis of the brain.  She has completed 35 sessions of HBOT with another 15 scheduled.  There has been no noticable results at this point and the doctors are running out of options. 

The doctors are discussing the use of Avastin as her next step in the treatment. Do you know if any more studies have been performed or if there are any recent articles that I can read about how Avastin can effect brain tumors and necrosis of the brain? 

Also, do you know of any cases where HBOT and Avastin has been used for the same patient and the results (knowing that every patient is different)?

Thank you in advance.



Posts: 1
Joined: Dec 2011

I am 2 years, 11 months post radiation for NPC.  The past year+ has been brutal with extreme fatigue/exhaustion. Although I told my radiation/oncologist about this, I was given no reasons for it. Then 9 months ago, I started fainting (now being told it was most likely seizures). Told the Dr of this also. Thanks to my ENT who found out about these symptoms and ordered an mri and discovered I have what appeared to be cancer growing with what appeared to be a tumor the size of a walnut in my right temporal lobe causing all this. I returned to my radiation doctor and found out thru his resident doctor that this had been growning for some time. His opinion was that it is right temporal lobe necrosis and not cancer.  Although he is a wonderful person and doctor, I cannot understand why this has not been addressed before. Perhaps he thought it would go away on its own. He recommended I do the hyperbaric oxygen chamber for 6 weeks, saying this would heal it.  My son had researched necrosis and found that Bevacizumub may be the best treatment.  The dr said if the oxygen treatment didn't work, they would try that next.  Considering the way I feel and everything going wrong, including neuropathy in my left hand and foot, which is causing falling, etc and the fatigue is now unbearable, I don't feel that I will be around for 6 weeks if something isn't done. Is it possible to take both treatments simutaneously or should I request going on with the bevacizumub instead of oxygen?  Thank you so much for any input you can offer.

NoTimeForCancer's picture
Posts: 1905
Joined: Mar 2013

I am not sure if anyone will respond, I hope they do, but I don't know.  I am sorry I do not have any advice to offer you on the subject but I read your post and wanted to write.  I hope you get all the help you need and wish you well.

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