Marlene McCarthy's breast cancer has grown relentlessly over the past seven years, spreading painfully through her bones and making it impossible to walk without a cane.
Although the 73-year-old knows there's no cure for her disease, she wants researchers to do better. It's been years, she said, since she has found a drug that has actually helped. McCarthy said she's frustrated that the Food and Drug Administration is approving cancer drugs without proof that they cure patients or help them live longer.
"That simply isn't good enough," said McCarthy, of Coventry, R.I. "I understand [why] that could be satisfactory for some people. It isn't to me."
Pushed by patient advocates who want earlier access to medications, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a flurry of oncology drugs in recent years, giving some people with cancer a renewed sense of hope and an array of expensive new options. A few of these drugs have been clear home runs, allowing patients with limited life expectancies to live for years.
Many more drugs, however, have offered patients only marginal benefits, with no evidence that they improve survival or quality of life, said Dr. Vinay Prasad, assistant professor of medicine at the Oregon Health and Sciences University, who has written extensively about the FDA's approval process for cancer drugs.
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