Every day, thousands of parents across America face a life-altering reality: learning their child has cancer. Pediatric cancer is the leading cause of death among children, with one in every 285 kids diagnosed before the age of 20. While researchers continue to make significant advances to treat and cure cancer for adults, progress to develop safe drugs for pediatric cancer lags far behind.
We have seen firsthand the struggles families endure in their battles against this terrible disease. In cases where minimal treatments are available, a parent’s only option is to take his or her child home and enjoy the time they have left together. These children deserve the same chances of recovery that adults battling cancer have, but sadly, this is not the case today.
New cancer treatment drugs being developed are tested on adults, but not on children. The Food and Drug Administration determines these drugs are safe for a full-grown adult, but not for a young, developing child. This leaves children with limited options, often resulting in doctors using powerful drugs approved for adults that can have severe consequences for children.
We recently heard from a couple who lost their child to chemotherapy. The child ended up defeating the cancer, but was not able to survive the treatment. In these cases, chemotherapy proves fatal for children even though it was shown to be safe for adults.
Parents from all over the country have told us their stories after watching their children struggle with chemotherapy and its lifelong health consequences, and they demand more treatment options.
Over the last 20 years, the FDA has approved nearly 190 new cancer treatments for adults. In comparison, it has approved only three new treatments for children. Some children with cancer currently rely on drugs developed in the 1960s.
This gap in treatment exists because cancer drugs are exempt from a rule that requires adult-approved drugs also to be tested for children. While this exemption made sense 20 years ago, recent scientific advancements make it possible to target specific genes that cause cancer. We must update our laws to reflect these modern advances, which is why we have introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to do so.
If the Senate passes this act, necessary studies will be conducted to provide physicians with more information for treating children with cancer. Ultimately, this bill would ensure new drugs that target cancer’s genetic structure are providing a pathway for the cancer community to know which adult cancer drugs also are safe for children.
It is our duty as elected officials to ensure our laws reflect what our constituents need. The Senate must pass the RACE for Children Act so children have a promising second chance at life.
Sen. Marco Rubio is a Republican from Florida; Sen. Michael Bennet is a Democrat from Colorado.