Bevacizumab (Avastin)

Bevacizumab is a type of targeted cancer drug treatment. It is also known as Avastin. 

It is a treatment for a number of different cancer types. 

You pronounce bevacizumab as bev-a-ciz-oo-mab. 

Depending on your cancer type, you might have bevacizumab in combination with another drug. 

How does bevacizumab work?

Bevacizumab targets a cancer cell protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). This protein helps cancers to grow blood vessels, so they can get food and oxygen from the blood. All cancers need a blood supply to be able to survive and grow.

Bevacizumab blocks this protein and stops the cancer from growing blood vessels, so it is starved and can't grow.

This treatment is an anti angiogenesis treatment. Meaning it interferes with the development of a blood supply. 

How do you have bevacizumab?

You have bevacizumab as a drip into your bloodstream. 

You might have treatment through a thin short tube (a cannula) that goes into a vein in your arm. You have a new cannula each time you have treatment.

You might have treatment through a long plastic tube that goes into a large vein in your chest. The tube stays in place throughout the course of treatment. This can be a:

  • central line
  • PICC line
  • portacath

How often do you have bevacizumab?

You have bevacizumab as cycles of treatment. This means that you have the drug and then a rest to allow your body to recover. 

You have the first dose of bevacizumab over 90 minutes. If you don't have any problems, you have the second dose over 60 minutes. If you don't have any problems, you have the third dose over 30 minutes. Every dose after that takes 30 minutes. 

You usually have bevacizumab every 2 to 3 weeks. Treatment usually continues for as long as it controls your cancer. 

Tests

You have blood tests before and during your treatment. They check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.

What are the side effects of bevacizumab?

Side effects can vary from person to person. They also depend on what other treatments you're having. 

When to contact your team

Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist will go through the possible side effects. They will monitor you during treatment and check how you are at your appointments. Contact your advice line as soon as possible if:

  • you have severe side effects 

  • your side effects aren’t getting any better

  • your side effects are getting worse

Early treatment can help manage side effects better. 

Contact your advice line immediately if you have signs of infection, including a temperature above 37.5C or below 36C.

We haven't listed all the side effects here. Remember it is very unlikely that you will have all of these side effects. But you might have some of them at the same time.

Common side effects

These side effects happen in more than 10 in 100 people (more than 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

High blood pressure

Tell your doctor or nurse if you are having treatment for high blood pressure. Or if you have headaches, nose bleeds, blurred or double vision or shortness of breath. Your nurse will check your blood pressure regularly.

Feeling of numbness or tingling in hands or feet (peripheral neuropathy)

Numbness or tingling in fingers or toes is often temporary and can improve after you finish treatment. Tell your healthcare team if you're finding it difficult to walk or complete fiddly tasks such as doing up buttons. 

An increased risk of infection

Increased risk of getting an infection is due to a drop in white blood cells. Symptoms include a change in temperature, aching muscles, headaches, feeling cold and shivery and generally unwell. You might have other symptoms depending on where the infection is.

Infections can sometimes be life threatening. You should contact your advice line urgently if you think you have an infection. 

An increased risk of bruising and bleeding

This is due to a drop in the number of platelets in your blood. These blood cells help the blood to clot when we cut ourselves. You may have nosebleeds or bleeding gums after brushing your teeth. Or you may have lots of tiny red spots or bruises on your arms or legs (known as petechiae).

Feeling weak and having no energy

This is usually mild. You can do things to help yourself, including some gentle exercise. It’s important not to push yourself too hard and eat a well balanced diet.

Talk to your doctor or nurse if this effect is stopping you from doing your usual daily activities.

Tiredness (fatigue)

You might feel very tired and as though you lack energy.

Various things can help you to reduce tiredness and cope with it, for example exercise. Some research has shown that taking gentle exercise can give you more energy. It is important to balance exercise with resting.

Diarrhoea

Contact your advice line if you have diarrhoea, such as if you've had 4 or more loose watery poos (stools) in 24 hours. Or if you can't drink to replace the lost fluid. Or if it carries on for more than 3 days.

Your doctor may give you anti diarrhoea medicine to take home with you after treatment. Eat less fibre, avoid raw fruits, fruit juice, cereals and vegetables, and drink plenty to replace the fluid lost.

Feeling or being sick

Feeling or being sick is usually well controlled with anti sickness medicines. It might help to avoid fatty or fried foods, eat small meals and snacks and take regular sips of water. Relaxation techniques might also help.

It is important to take anti sickness medicines as prescribed even if you don’t feel sick. It is easier to prevent sickness rather than treat it once it has started.

Tummy (abdominal) pain

Tell your treatment team if you have this. They can check the cause and give you medicine to help. 

Constipation

Constipation Open a glossary item is easier to sort out if you treat it early. Drink plenty of fluids and eat as much fresh fruit and vegetables as you can. Try to take gentle exercise, such as walking. Tell your healthcare team if you think you are constipated. They can prescribe a laxative.

Bleeding from your bottom

If you have bleeding from your bottom tell your doctor. 

Loss of appetite and weight

You might not feel like eating and may lose weight. Eating several small meals and snacks throughout the day can be easier to manage. You can talk to a dietitian if you are concerned about your appetite or weight loss. 

High temperature (fever)

If you get a high temperature, let your healthcare team know straight away. Ask them if you can take paracetamol to help lower your temperature.

Eye problems including watery eyes

Watery eyes is also called excessive tearing or epiphora (pronounced ep-if-or-ah). Tell your doctor or nurse if this is a problem for you. They can prescribe medicines to help. Try to avoid dust, pollen or animal hairs as they can make the watering worse. 

Changes to your voice

You might find that your voice becomes hoarse.

Taste changes

Taste changes may make you go off certain foods and drinks. You may also find that some foods taste different from usual or that you prefer to eat spicier foods. Your taste gradually returns to normal a few weeks after your treatment finishes.

Nose bleed or a runny nose

You may have nose bleeds. 

You might also have a runny nose or a sore, blocked nose that makes you sneeze. 

Protein in your urine 

Small amounts of protein in your urine may be found when your nurse tests your urine. This usually goes away on its own. If there are large amounts of protein you may have tests to check how well your kidneys are working.

Skin problems

Skin problems include a skin rash, dry skin and itching. This usually goes back to normal when your treatment finishes. Your healthcare team can tell you what products you can use on your skin to help.

You may also experience changes to your skin tone (skin discolouration). 

Slow wound healing

You won't have bevacizumab until at least 28 days after surgery or until any wounds have completely healed.

Any wounds you might have can take longer to heal. Keep wounds clean to prevent infection. Contact your GP or specialist nurse if you are worried about a wound. 

Muscle and joint pain

You might feel some pain from your muscles and joints. Speak to your doctor or nurse about what painkillers you can take to help with this.

Headaches

Tell your healthcare team if you keep getting headaches. They can give you painkillers to help.

Slurred speech

You might have difficulty speaking, slurred speech or slower speech than usual. Talk to your doctor if this happens.

Cough 

You might have a cough or feel short of breath. 

Changes in mineral levels in the blood

You may have changes in levels of minerals and salts in your blood, including low levels of sodium or high levels of uric acid (causing gout). You have regular blood tests during treatment to check this. 

Sore mouth 

You might get a sore mouth and mouth ulcers. It may be painful to swallow drinks or food. You will have mouth washes to keep your mouth healthy.

You can have painkillers to reduce the soreness. Take them half an hour before meals to make eating easier.

Early menopause

You may have an early menopause. Your periods might become irregular and then stop completely.

Occasional side effects

These side effects happen in between 1 and 10 out of every 100 people (between 1 and 10%). You might have one or more of them. They include:

  • blood clots that are life threatening; signs are pain, swelling and redness where the clot is. Feeling breathless can be a sign of a blood clot on the lung. Contact your advice line or doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms
  • damage to your gut or bowl, such as a blockage or hole
  • heart failure
  • redness, peeling, tenderness, pain or blistering on the fingers or feet
  • low numbers of red blood cells that can cause breathlessness and looking pale
  • dry mouth, feeling thirsty
  • passing less urine, dark urine or a urine infection
  • inflammation of the moist lining of the mouth, gut, airway, lungs and other parts of the body
  • pain including headache, back pain, pain between the hips (pelvis) and back passage (anus)
  • feeling sleepy
  • increased heart rate
  • an abnormal opening (fistula) between internal organs and skin or other tissues that are not usually connected
  • fainting
  • a reaction to the drug which can include a skin rash, itching, swelling of the lips, face or throat, breathing difficulties, fever and chills

Rare side effects

  • changes in eyesight, severe drowsiness, and changes in behaviour. This set of symptoms is called Posterior Reversible Encephalopathy Syndrome (PRES). Contact your healthcare team straight away if you develop these symptoms. This condition is reversible. 

Coping with side effects

We have more information about side effects and tips on how to cope with them.

What else do you need to know?

Other medicines, food and drink

Cancer drugs can interact with medicines, herbal products, and some food and drinks. We are unable to list all the possible interactions that may happen. An example is grapefruit or grapefruit juice which can increase the side effects of certain drugs.

Tell your healthcare team about any medicines you are taking. This includes vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies. Also let them know about any other medical conditions or allergies you may have.

Loss of fertility

You may not be able to become pregnant or get someone pregnant after treatment with this drug. Talk to your doctor before starting treatment if you think you may want to have a baby in the future.

Men might be able to store sperm before starting treatment. And women might be able to store eggs or ovarian tissue. But these services are not available in every hospital, so you would need to ask your doctor about this.    

Contraception and pregnancy

This drug may harm a baby developing in the womb. It is important not to become pregnant or get someone pregnant while you are having treatment with this drug and for at least 6 months after treatment.

Talk to your doctor or nurse about effective contraception before starting treatment. Let them know straight away if you or your partner falls pregnant while having treatment.

Breastfeeding

Don’t breastfeed during this treatment and for 6 months afterwards. The drug may come through in the breast milk.

Treatment for other conditions

If you are having tests or treatment for anything else, always mention your cancer treatment. For example, if you are visiting your dentist.

Immunisations

Don’t have immunisations with live vaccines while you’re having treatment and for up to 12 months afterwards. The length of time depends on the treatment you are having. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how long you should avoid live vaccinations.

In the UK, live vaccines include rubella, mumps, measles, BCG, yellow fever and one of the shingles vaccines called Zostavax.

You can have:

  • other vaccines, but they might not give you as much protection as usual
  • the flu vaccine (as an injection)
  • the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine - talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best time to have it in relation to your cancer treatment

Members of your household who are aged 5 years or over are also able to have the COVID-19 vaccine. This is to help lower your risk of getting COVID-19 while having cancer treatment and until your immune system Open a glossary item recovers from treatment.

Contact with others who have had immunisations - You can be in contact with other people who have had live vaccines as injections. Avoid close contact with people who have recently had live vaccines taken by mouth (oral vaccines) such as the oral typhoid vaccine. Sometimes people who have had the live shingles vaccine can get a shingles type rash. If this happens they should keep the area covered.

If your immune system is severely weakened, you should avoid contact with children who have had the flu vaccine as a nasal spray as this is a live vaccine. This is for 2 weeks following their vaccination.

Babies have the live rotavirus vaccine. The virus is in the baby’s poo for about 2 weeks and could make you ill if your immunity is low. Get someone else to change their nappies during this time if you can. If this isn't possible, wash your hands well after changing their nappy.

More information about this treatment

For further information about this treatment and possible side effects go to the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website. You can find the patient information leaflet on this website.

You can report any side effect you have to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) as part of their Yellow Card Scheme.

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