Which Cancer Drugs Actually Work? Many Unanswered Questions Threaten Patients and Families

Many new cancer treatments cost $10,000 each month or more, and yet three out of four are not proven to extend life, according to a recent study.

Of course, survival isn’t the only possible benefit of cancer treatment. But, unfortunately, most of these medications are not proven to improve quality of life, either.

Why is this happening? Is the infatuation with finding “new breakthroughs” undermining the progress of decades of medical research?

When I was growing up, cancer was a death sentence. Friends and relatives who were diagnosed with cancer got obviously sicker and sicker and soon died. But as an adult, I’ve seen enormous strides made in cancer research and treatment. Millions of cancer survivors owe their lives to decades of medical research. Are we at risk of losing what we’ve gained?

The new study confirms what many public health advocates already know: Cancer treatments are getting rushed to market before they are carefully evaluated. The new analysis wasn’t conducted by the government officials who should be protecting patients from expensive but unproven treatments; it was based on publicly available information and analyzed by reporters at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today.

In fact, the government officials who used to protect us are now part of the problem. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) used to require that all drugs be proven to improve survival, health, or quality of life before they could be sold. Now the FDA is approving drugs on the basis of “promising results” such as the shrinking of cancer tumors. That may sound reasonable, but too often cancer drugs are killing the cancer while also killing the patient—and as many of us know first-hand, making patients’ lives miserable at the same time.

While far from perfect, older cancer drugs are often more effective than the overly hyped but under-studied drugs that the FDA has approved in recent years. As an added bonus, the older drugs often cost much less, saving patients thousands of dollars and helping to keep health insurance costs from skyrocketing even higher. […]


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