Breast cancer patients outraged over drug debate

Should the cancer drug Avastin be used to treat breast cancer?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was to begin two days of hearings Tuesday on its plan to withdraw approval for the drug to treat that form of the disease.

The agency says studies have shown Avastin is not effective. But some breast cancer patients are outraged over its possible withdrawal, and have been rallying against the FDA's possible upcoming action.

One woman told CBS News the drug has essentially saved her life.

Kerry Harrington, 49, received a diagnosis of stage four metastatic breast cancer three years ago. The cancer spread to her liver. Her oncologist enrolled her in a clinical trial of Avastin - combined with chemotherapy - and within six months, she had no signs of cancer.

Harrington told "The Early Show" she "used a ruler to monitor what was happening with the tumor in my breast and, you know, every week, it got smaller and smaller. And, after six months, my doctor felt I needed a break. So, after that break we, the PET Scan revealed nothing. You know, no cancer."

She is currently only taking estrogen-lowering medication.

"Avastin saved my life," Harrington said. "You know, I'm here, three years, you know. The studies are saying, they're saying that people didn't live for more than five months, you know. And there has to be other people like me, that it works on."

Harrington added, "There's still a chance that it can come back, you know. But, I feel confident that there, are drugs that can be used, and if I have to go on Avastin again, I would like it to be available."

Harrington continued, "I'm hoping I'm going to be able to see my kids get married, and have their own kids, and be a grandmother, and I just, I don't understand how the FDA could remove it, when it worked so well for me. You know, it just shouldn't happen."

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"Early Show" co-anchor Rebecca Jarvis noted that Avastin received accelerated approval in 2008 for the treatment of breast cancer and then, in 2010, the FDA began talking about revoking its use for that purpose.

CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton pointed out, "This was a drug that was approved for women with advanced stage breast cancer to slow the growth of those tumors that had already spread outside the breast. Now, this is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga about this drug, about not only whether it works, but is it safe."

"When you talk about any drug -- especially one being used to treat a patient with cancer -- there are always side effects," Ashton continued. "When you talk about Avastin, those side effects can be significant. And they include high blood pressure, incidence of bleeding or blood clots, perforations or holes in the stomach or intestinal tract, even heart attacks or the risk of kidney damage. And, again, with any medication, you want to weigh the risks versus the benefits."

Ashton said doctors don't know yet which patients could benefit from the drug as opposed to those who would find it detrimental.

"They're going to be looking at that in the future, especially whether or not there are specific subsets of women with breast cancer that may benefit from Avastin's use," Ashton said. "We also should remember that Avastin is used to treat other types of cancers, from brain to lung to colon, and those uses are not being debated today."

Going forward at the FDA, Ashton explained, six panelists will hear testimony from individual patients and review official data and research.

Ashton added, "Ultimately, the decision will be made by the head of the FDA at some point in the future."