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Avastin: Side effects

Avastin — or Mvasi, a biosimilar — is not a typical chemotherapy drug. It’s a type of targed therapy called a monoclonal antibody, which is often given to stage IV patients alongside chemo. Side effects from Avastin are usually very mild.

Side effects can include:

Whew, sounds like a lot, right? Remember that you likely won’t experience all of these side effects — because everyone’s bodies are different. 

If you ever feel like you can’t manage your side effects and symptoms, don’t be afraid to speak with your doctor about pre-meds or complimentary meds to manage them. You can also ask for a referral to the palliative care specialist or team at your cancer center. It’s important to note that palliative care is not the same as hospice care. Palliative care helps patients manage symptoms, and it can be extremely helpful for many people.

Remember that it’s important to check in with your healthcare team before starting any supplements, complementary therapies or fasting regimens. These treatments might not be appropriate for everyone — and some may even interfere with chemotherapy.

Let’s get into some side effects you might experience…

Increased risk of bleeding

Avastin slows down a tumor’s ability to form new blood vessels — so the drug can also interfere with normal blood vessel function and cause bleeding.

Many patients experience nose bleeds while on Avastin. Do your best to avoid cuts and scrapes. If you do get cut, make sure to clean the wound and apply pressure to help stop the bleeding quickly. Most patients view nosebleeds as a minor annoyance, but it’s a good idea to carry some tissues around with you, just in case!

Increased risk of bowel perforation

Because Avastin interferes with VEGF signaling, it increases the risk of getting a hole in your bowels (also known as perforation). 

Avastin can also cause fistulas, which are abnormal channels or passageways between body parts. This is a rare but important side effect, so not everyone may be able to get Avastin

Delayed wound healing

Avastin can cause wounds to heal slower — so if you have had a port placed recently, or any other type of surgery, your oncologist will probably hold off on Avastin until you have fully recovered.

High blood pressure

This drug can cause high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Your healthcare team will monitor your blood pressure carefully. If it gets too high, they may consider reducing your dose, or prescribing medication to lower it. If this becomes an issue for you, it might be a good idea to purchase a machine to monitor blood pressure at home.

Kidney problems

Avastin can interfere with kidney function, and cause kidneys to excrete protein into the urine. Your team will monitor this closely to make sure your kidneys are working well, and make adjustments to your treatment as needed.

Low platelets

Avastin can cause your platelets to drop. Platelets help your blood clot — so low levels can cause bruising, nosebleeds and sensitive gums.  Avastin is usually given with other chemotherapy, which can contribute to low platelets. Your care team may decide to stop Avastin if your platelets stay low and they suspect that Avastin is responsible.

Bone and joint pain

Avastin can cause soreness or stiffness in your bones and joints. Talk to your oncologist if you experience these symptoms.

Here are some tips:
  • Stretching and gentle exercise may help reduce joint pain. Weight management can also help reduce stress on the joints
  • Try hot or cold compresses, heating pads, or ice packs
  • Accupuncture may help
  • Massage therapists with experience working with cancer patients can do gentle massages to ease joint pain
  • A physical therapist can help restore function in the joint, and teach you how to relieve pain using exercises at home

When should I contact my care team?

It’s a good idea to keep a journal or notes about your side effects, so you can discuss them with your oncologist at your next appointment. This can help you advocate for changes to your pre-meds and home meds as necessary. Be sure to discuss possible side effects with your oncologist, so you know what’s normal and what might be concerning. Before your first treatment, you should have been given a 24-hour phone number to call in case of severe symptoms.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • Persistent high fever
  • Chest pain or chest discomfort
  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding that won’t stop
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusual or intense pain
  • Signs of an allergic reaction, such as severe itching, swollen tongue, or difficulty swallowing
  • Persistent diarrhea or vomiting

Want to learn more about side effects and how to manage them?

Join one of our COLONTOWN Facebook groups:

  • Corner Cupboard is a place to discuss treatment side effects and management
  • If you’re suffering from late or long-lasting side effects related to treatment, check out The Late Show
  • Palliative Pathways can teach you how your palliative care team can help you
  • In the Healthy Gut Cafe and Fitness Center, you can learn about how diet and exercise can help improve quality of life during treatment
  • Join Live Wire to learn about icing strategies and ways to cope with neuropathy
  • Cognitive Way is here to help people struggling with chemo brain

Want to join? Fill out the registration form here.