Primary purpose: Formation of ascites and pleural effusion (PE) is a common problem for patients with advanced-stage cancer. These fluid accumulations cause severe symptoms such as abdominal distention, shortness of breath, cachexia, anorexia, and fatigue. Preclinical models have demonstrated that vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) plays a pivotal role in the accumulation of malignant PE or ascites. This study investigated whether blockade of VEGF activity would reduce biological activity of PE and ascites on endothelial cells of cancer patients.
Patients and methods: The activity of VEGF in PE and ascites of 58 patients (39 with PE and 19 with ascites) was measured. An endothelial cell proliferation assay with human umbilical vein endothelial cells was used to determine the biological activity of ascites and PE.
Results: VEGF concentrations ranged from 67-6,245 pg/ml. A significantly higher concentration of VEGF was detected in the ascites and PE of patients with cancer (median, 1,290 pg/ml) than in patients with nonmalignant disease (median, 250 pg/ml; p = 0.02). Of the 58 PE and ascites samples, 41 were biologically active, based on a two- to fourfold stimulation of endothelial cell proliferation in 72 hours. VEGF concentrations were significantly higher in the biologically active samples compared with the 17 nonactive samples (2,056 pg/ml versus 771 pg/ml; p = 0.02). Coincubation of the samples with either a neutralizing polyclonal antibody against VEGF or SU5416, a small molecule inhibitor of the VEGF receptor Flk-1/KDR, inhibited endothelial cell proliferation by 66% and 100%, respectively. The inhibition caused by the antibody and that caused by SU5416 correlated significantly (r = 0.8, p<0.001).
Conclusion: We conclude that malignant ascites and PE contain high levels of biologically active VEGF. This study strongly supports the hypothesis that blockade of VEGF, such as that afforded by SU5416, may benefit cancer patients with recurrent ascites or PE formation.