Almost one-third of chemotherapy drugs used in off-label treatments

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A new study finds that nearly one-third of all prescriptions written for chemotherapy drugs like Avastin are used in off-label, unapproved treatments.

The Food and Drug Administration has only approved the use of chemotherapy in the treatment of several types of cancers but like other prescription drugs, that doesn’t necessarily prevent doctors from using these drugs in those treatments for their patients. Doctors are supposed to indicate to their patients that use of a drug off label or for unapproved purposes carries certain risks.

According to a Reuters report this week on a new study from researchers at University of Chicago, 30 percent of all prescriptions for chemotherapy drugs were for off-label purposes. This generated $4.5 billion in sales of the drugs for these uses in 2010, alone.

While it is not illegal for doctors to prescribe drugs for off-label treatments, there are risks to the patient that must be considered. And in many cases, drugs are not approved for treatments because there is not enough evidence to support that its benefits outweigh the risks.

One doctor not involved with the study told Reuters that doctors and patients may be eager to try any cancer treatment that has proven to have benefits in other treatments if they’re not seeing the improvements from their current course of action against their disease.