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Cancer Drug Shrinks Benign Tumors That Steal Hearing
Date:9/11/2009

Avastin returned sound to young adults with acoustic neuromas

FRIDAY, Sept. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Last year, Edith Garrett could no longer hear her mother's voice or the sound of a dog barking. She was 22.

Four years earlier, Garrett learned she had neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), a condition characterized by tumors in the nervous system. The benign tumors, acoustic neuromas, damaged the eighth cranial nerve in one ear.

The result: increasing hearing loss with no prospect of a cure.

Having already lost 92 percent of her hearing, the college student from Atlanta signed on for an experimental treatment -- a drug therapy federally approved to inhibit the formation of new blood vessels that feed tumors. The treatment involved infusions of bevacizumab, a drug marketed as Avastin that is sometimes used to treat advanced cancers.

Dr. Scott Plotkin, a neuro-oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who led the trial, was looking for a medical option for his NF2 patients with acoustic neuromas. Not only do the tumors threaten hearing loss, but so can the current therapies, surgery and localized radiation.

Aware that his colleagues were having success with Avastin on certain other tumors, Plotkin had tried it on a 16-year-old boy who also had NF2. To his surprise, he succeeded in restoring the boy's hearing.

Although it was a long shot, he decided to try the therapy on Garrett, who was then relying on hearing aids.

While sitting in class one day, after receiving two infusions of Avastin two weeks apart, the young woman heard a distinct Southern accent for the first time in years. Later that day, she called home and could hear her mother's soothing voice. They were ecstatic.

Within three months of the start of treatment, Garrett's tumor shrank and her hearing improved dramatically -- from 8 percent to 98 percent.

Inspired by these two breakthroughs,
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