Bevacizumab in the Treatment of Cervical Cancer – Current Evidence and Next Steps

European Oncology & Haematology, 2016;12(1):32–43 DOI:


Despite the introduction of screening and, latterly, vaccination programmes in the developed world, cervical cancer remains a significant global health problem. For those diagnosed with advanced or recurrent disease, even within resource-rich communities, prognosis remains poor with an overall survival (OS) of just over 12 months. New therapeutic interventions are urgently required. Advances in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying tumour growth and the downstream effects of human papilloma virus infection identified angiogenesis as a rational target for therapeutic intervention in cervical cancer. Anti-angiogenic agents showed promising activity in early-phase clinical trials culminating in a randomised phase III study of the humanised monoclonal antibody to vascular endothelial growth factor, bevacizumab, in combination with chemotherapy. This pivotal study, the Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) protocol 240, met its primary endpoint, demonstrating a significant improvement in OS. Bevacizumab became the first targeted agent to be granted regulatory approval by the US Food and Drug Administration for use alongside chemotherapy in adults with persistent, recurrent or metastatic carcinoma of the cervix. This review outlines the rationale for targeting angiogenesis in cervical cancer focusing on the current indications for the use of bevacizumab in this disease and future directions.
Keywords: Angiogenesis, bevacizumab, recurrent and metastatic cervical cancer, target therapy, human papilloma virus
Disclosure: Ana Oaknin has served as a Consultant or advisory role for Roche, Astra-Zeneca and Clovis and as a speaker for Roche and Astra-Zeneca. Ana Oaknin has also received travel expenses from Roche, Astra-Zeneca and PharmaMar. Victor Rodriguez-Freixinos has nothing to disclose in relation to this article. No funding was received in the publication of this article.
Open Access: This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any non-commercial use, distribution, adaptation and reproduction provided the original author(s) and source are given appropriate credit
Received: October 07, 2015 Accepted November 19, 2015
Correspondence: Ana Oaknin, Hospital Universitario del Vall Hebrón, Vall d´Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) Edificio Modulares Azules 1a planta Paseo Vall Hebrón 119-129, 08035 Barcelona, Spain. E:

Worldwide, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women and seventh most common cancer overall. In 2012, approximately 528,000 new cervical cancer cases were diagnosed globally. Cervical cancer accounted for 7.5% of all female cancer deaths with approximately 266,000 deaths; the majority (87%) of these deaths occurred in developing countries.1,2 In Europe, the crude incidence of cervical cancer is 13.2/100,000 and the crude mortality rate is 5.9/100,000 women/year;3 in the US, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a total of 12,900 and 4,100 women were estimated to be diagnosed and to have died from cervical cancer in 2015.4

The majority of invasive cervical cancers (70%) are caused by persistent infections with human papilloma virus (HPV) types 16 or 18. This has led to the development of vaccines against HPV16 and 18, which are available and recommended for girls from the age of 9 years, with catchup vaccination for women up to age 26. Although millions of doses have been provided to women and girls, the impact of the vaccine is still decades away.5 Between 80% and 90% of cervical carcinoma are squamous cell carcinomas. The second most common type is adenocarcinomas, which may be pure or mixed (adenosquamous carcinoma). While patients with the adenocarcinoma subtypes may have a poorer prognosis, the treatment recommendations for these subtypes are per the standard of care for cervical cancer as no other therapies have been defined, and these patients are included in all cervical cancer trials.

The Féderation Internationale de Gynécologie et d’Obstétrique (FIGO) cervical cancer staging (stage I–IV) is based on clinical examination, including tumour size (IA, B), vaginal or parametrial involvement (stage IIA–IIIB), bladder or rectum extension (stage IVA) and distant metastases (stage IVB). In its rules for clinical staging, FIGO states that palpation, inspection, colposcopy, endocervical curettage, hysteroscopy, cystoscopy, proctoscopy, intravenous urography and radiographic examination of the lungs and skeleton may be used for clinical staging. FIGO clinical staging criteria do not allow inclusion of computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for the establishment of stage; however, the current standards of care consider patients with evidence of distant metastasis noted on these imaging modalities as having metastatic or stage IVB disease.

Early-stage cervical cancer is a potentially curable disease by surgery (FIGO stage IA/B1 disease); however, in locally advanced stage disease (FIGO stage II–IVA) the mainstay of primary treatment is combination radiation therapy and radiation sensitising platinum-based chemotherapy. These stages are usually characterised by large central pelvic tumours that are necrotic and often the cause of significant bleeding, as well as the involvement of adjacent pelvic organs (vagina, bladder, rectum, ureters). Up to 70% of patients with bulky primary or advanced disease will have a recurrence, which is generally considered incurable, particularly if distant metastases have developed. Patients with metastatic cancers and those with persistent or recurrent disease after platinum-based chemoradiotherapy not suitable for local control have poor outcomes, with 5-year survival rates between 5% and 15%.6 In this setting any treatment is palliative and the goals of care are to prolong survival but also, and perhaps more importantly, to maintain and/or improve quality of life (QoL).

Chemotherapy, though essentially palliative, is usually recommended for these patients, and although the optimal regimen for chemotherapy has not been defined, cisplatin combination therapy has been considered the standard of care for the last decade. Carboplatin or non platinum regimens (e.g., paclitaxel or topotecan) are options for patients who cannot tolerate cisplatin.5,7 Unfortunately, there are no standard second-line options for these women when their cancer progresses, therefore new therapeutic approaches are urgently required. Conducting clinical trials in cervical cancer patients pose particular difficulties due to their demographic characteristics. Most of the women diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer come from sections of society where, historically, engagement in clinical research has been low and where cost effectiveness and access to new treatments for those in need are major concerns issues.

Targeting angiogenesis is one of the most promising therapeutic strategies to emerge in recent years in the treatment of cervical cancer. Angiogenesis is a critical process in cervical carcinogenesis and tumour progression. Following the publication in 2014 of the randomised phase III study Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) 240, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first anti-angiogenic agent, bevacizumab (Avastin©, Genentech/Roche, California, United States), in combination with chemotherapy for use in women with advanced cervical cancer.8 This article will review the rationale for studying antiangiogenic therapy in cervical cancer, focus on the clinical use of bevacizumab and finally highlight potential future directions.

Unmet medical need in advanced cervical cancer and rationale for selection of chemotherapy agents
Improving overall survival (OS) has remained the primary endpoint for clinical trials in advanced cervical cancer, as the prognosis for women with persistent, recurrent or stage IVB cervical cancer remains poor with median durations of OS ≤12 months. In addition, OS has been selected as the primary endpoint because unlike what we see in other cancers, this population is not able to receive multiple lines of chemotherapy.

Over the past 3 decades, the GOG has studied the efficacy and tolerability of different cytotoxic regimens for metastatic and recurrent cervical cancer.9The studies GOG-169 and GOG-179 evaluated the clinical efficacy and safety of cisplatin-based doublets against singleagent cisplatin with paclitaxel or topotecan combinations displaying improvements in OS, progression free survival (PFS) and overall response rates (ORR) compared with cisplatin monotherapy. However, only the combination of cisplatin and topotecan achieved a statistically significant impact on ORR, PFS and OS (i.e., difference in median OS of 2.9 months [hazard ratio (HR) = 0.76; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.593–0.979]).10,11 This study was the basis for the regulatory approval of the combination of topotecan and cisplatin for advanced/recurrent cervical cancer.11

As the use of cisplatin-based chemoradiation had become increasingly prevalent, the GOG analysed the response rates regarding the previous use of cisplatin in studies GOG-169 and GOG-179, only 27% of patients treated on GOG-169 received prior radiosensitising chemotherapy compared with 57% of patients on GOG-179, and noted that for those patients treated previously with cisplatin, the response rates for cisplatin and paclitaxel were superior compared with cisplatin and topotecan (32% versus 15%, respectively) (see Table 1).

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Keywords: Angiogenesis, bevacizumab, recurrent and metastatic cervical cancer, target therapy, human papilloma virus