Cancer drug stops nosebleeds

March 17, 2010 9:45:41 AM PDT
Most nosebleeds are distracting but go away after a few drops. Imagine having a nosebleed every day of your life, and instead of a few drops, it's a few pints of blood. That's reality for people with HHT, a genetic disorder that affects blood vessels. It impacts one out of every 2,000 people in the U.S. and more than 6 million people worldwide. One doctor is experimenting with a cancer drug to stop the bleeding.

It if has an engine and four wheels, it has a place in Jack Sardisco's heart. The former air traffic controller loves spending his retirement under the hood of his favorite cars.

Since his youth, Sardisco has been dealing with a debilitating problem -- chronic nosebleeds.

"It gushes out," Sardisco told Ivanhoe. "It doesn't jus trickle down. It gushes out. I'm talking about full-sized bath towels, six or seven bath towels full of blood."

He inherited a disease called HHT -- his blood vessels don't work properly. The slightest movement triggers dangerous nosebleeds several times a week.

"I was on the ground on the floor of the bathroom, like that close to passing out," Sardisco said.

There are laser treatments, but they don't last.

"We didn't have a treatment," Terence Davidson, M.D., director of the UCSD Nasal Dysfunction Clinic in San Diego, Calif., told Ivanhoe. "All we had was something to put a Band-Aid on it."

Dr. Davidson is trying an off-label approach. He's using a cancer drug in low doses to stop the bleeding. The drug stops new blood vessel growth.

"I worried about it, trust me, but we did it," Dr. Davidson said. "All of a sudden, I was getting complete control for two years."

In a study, Dr. Davidson used Avastin on 10 patients. Injections -- which require surgery and anesthesia -- controlled bleeding for up to two years. A nose-spray form worked for four months. In three years, he has used the treatment on more than 50 patients in all and seen no side effects. There are no long-term results, and the drug can interfere with wound healing.

"Never in my life have I been able to treat people with a nosebleed a day, and now all of a sudden, that's routine," Dr. Davidson added.

Sardisco comes into the office for a dose of the spray every couple of months. He's had one nosebleed in seven months, one of his best years so far.

"I'm really hopeful that I can live my life -- a normal life," he said.

For the first time in his life, Sardisco says he's in the driver's seat.

The cancer drug Avastin is FDA-approved to treat colon cancers but is not approved for this use. Doctors have also used it successfully off-label to treat eye disorders. Dr. Davidson says because this is still considered clinical research, patients cannot get a prescription for the nose spray to use at home.