Anti-VEGF treatments can aid a number of eye conditions, such as macular degeneration and retinal problems.

VEGF is an angiogenic factor, meaning it plays an important part in the development of new blood vessels. Some amount of VEGF is necessary for critical aspects of bodily function, but it can also encourage abnormal blood vessel and tumor growth.

Anti-VEGF treatments can help normalize a person’s VEGF levels.

What Is VEGF?

Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a type of growth factor, a group of proteins that stimulates tissue growth, which is produced and used by many different cells. It is a potent angiogenic factor, meaning it helps in the production of new blood vessels.

VEGF plays an important role in the cardiovascular system, central nervous system, bone development, and more.

Why Limit VEGF?

While VEGF is naturally occurring in the body and serves a number of important functions, it is also produced and used by tumor cells. Even non-tumorous cells can produce too much VEGF, which can lead to complications.

In addition to increasing your risk of malignant tumors and cancer, excess VEGF can cause abnormal blood vessels to form. These blood vessels can damage your eyes and lead to vision problems.

Conditions Treated With Anti-VEGF Treatments

Some conditions VEGF has been linked to include the following:

  • Malignant tumor progression
  • Breast cancer development
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Neovascular age-related macular degeneration
  • Retinal vein occlusions

Part of the treatment for these conditions often includes the use of anti-VEGF drugs. These drugs help limit the production of VEGF, slowing cell growth.

Medications

There are several anti-VEGF medications a doctor might prescribe, with more awaiting approval. Here are some of them:

  • Avastin (bevacizumab)
  • Beovu (brolucizumab)
  • Lucentis (ranibizumab)
  • Eylea (aflibercept)

Avastin is primarily a drug used in cancer treatment, but it is sometimes used off-label to treat macular degeneration. The other three medications listed above are approved by the FDA for the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration, one of the most common reasons anti-VEGFs are prescribed.

How Treatments Work

Anti-VEGF medications seek out and block VEGF molecules. This reduces a person’s rate of cellular growth. When used correctly, this can help stabilize cellular growth to normal levels.

For eye health conditions, the drug is usually administered via injection in a doctor’s office. A doctor anesthetizes the eye and applies antiseptic drops. Then, they inject the medication into the appropriate area. This is a fast and generally painless procedure, with a small needle used to make the injection.

The number of injections needed depends on your doctor’s diagnosis of your condition and the course they feel is most appropriate. Injections may be administered every few weeks or months.

The duration of this treatment course can be fairly long. It sometimes takes months or years for a patient to see the full effect.

Risks & Complications of Anti-VEGF Medications

While the injection procedure is safe, any process involving a needle entering the eye carries some inherent risk. This is why it is important that only a reputable medical professional administer anti-VEGF medication.

There is the potential for microbes to be introduced into the eye via the injection, but this is rare. Part of the injection procedure is the use of antiseptic drops, which are explicitly used to kill microbes and reduce the risk of complications. While drugs can sometimes introduce contaminants into the eye, the eye itself is often the source of microbes that may cause infection.

Common side effects of these medications when used to treat eye health conditions include the following:

  • Dry eye
  • Mild itchiness
  • Floaters
  • Eye redness
  • The feeling of something in your eye
  • Temporary blurry vision

Studies suggest the differences in risk between different anti-VEGF medications when used appropriately are minimal. The signs of more rare and potentially serious complications when using these medications include the following:

    • Swelling
    • Moderate or worse eye pain
    • Infection
    • Light sensitivity
    • Cataract development
    • Retinal detachment

If you experience any of these more rare symptoms, contact a medical professional immediately. They are not normal and require immediate attention.

Success Rates of Anti-VEGF Treatments

The success rate of anti-VEGF treatments depends on the condition being treated. For example, abnormal cellular growth can sometimes cause permanent damage. While anti-VEGF treatments may normalize cellular growth (some growth is normal, as cells naturally replace themselves in the body), they can’t always fix harm that is already done.

When used as an appropriate treatment for eye health conditions, about 1 in 3 patients experience vision improvement. About 9 in 10 patients experience vision stabilization. This is a safe treatment and vision stabilization is still a success by many people’s standards, especially if a person began treatments promptly.

As a cancer and tumor treatment, it is more difficult to discuss success rates. Anti-VEGF treatments would be one part of a much broader treatment plan to address these issues, with success depending on the nature of the cancer when discovered, the patient’s health, other treatment approaches, and many more factors.

Consult a Doctor

Anti-VEGF medications should only be administered by a medical professional. They’re also controlled drugs, and you cannot obtain them legally yourself. If you believe you may need anti-VEGF treatments, or are otherwise experiencing health symptoms that might signal a problem, you should contact a medical professional.

Both eye conditions and cancer should be treated as soon as possible to achieve the best possible result. Assuming you are experiencing eye health symptoms, you will likely want to talk with an ophthalmologist. They can help diagnose your problem and create an anti-VEGF treatment plan if appropriate.

Anti-VEGF Treatments FAQs

  • What are anti-VEGF treatments?

    These treatments lessen swelling and can potentially reduce blood vessel growth. They are used to treat various eye conditions, such as macular degeneration and retinal issues, among others.

  • What do anti-VEGF injections treat?

    Most commonly, anti-VEGF injections are used to treat wet macular degeneration, helping to stabilize vision.

  • Are anti-VEGF treatments effective?

    Their effectiveness depends on the condition being treated. For example, anti-VEGF treatments have shown to be effective in preventing vision loss from wet macular degeneration.

  • Do anti-VEGF injections hurt?

    The injections happen quickly, and they are not usually painful. You may experience some mild discomfort, redness, and irritation in the days following the injections.

References

A Brief History of Anti-VEGF for the Treatment of Ocular Angiogenesis. (August 2012). The American Journal of Pathology.

Anti-VEGF Treatments. (March 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Comparison of Anti-VEGF Treatments for Wet AMD. (February 2020). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

What Is Avastin? (March 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) and Its Role in Non-Endothelial Cells: Autocrine Signalling by VEGF. Madame Curie Bioscience Database.

The Era of Anti-Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) Drugs in Ophthalmology, VEGF and Anti-VEGF Therapy. (October 2016). Central European Journal of Immunology.

Ten-Year Outcome of Anti-Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Treatment for Neovascular Age-Related Macular Degeneration. (September 2021). Indian Journal of Ophthalmology.

Anti-Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Indications in Ocular Disease. (October–December 2015). Romanian Journal of Ophthalmology.

Anti-VEGF Therapy: Higher Potency and Long-Lasting Antagonism Are Not Necessarily Better. (June 2019). The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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