There are still unanswered questions -- including whether sorafenib gives patients a shot at a longer life. "We won't know that for a few years," Brose said. And there's no way to predict whether or when the FDA will clear the drug for thyroid cancer.
Because sorafenib is approved for other cancers, doctors can use it on an "off-label" basis for thyroid cancer. However, that makes insurance coverage a thornier issue, and the drug costs several thousand dollars a month.
"Most people would not be able to pay for it on their own," Masters said. Insurance companies may pay, he noted, but doctors need to work it out with health plans on a case-by-case basis.
If the FDA approves sorafenib specifically for thyroid cancer, that would make insurance coverage much easier for patients, Masters said.
He added that sorafenib is not the only drug under study for resistant cases of thyroid cancer; other types of newer, targeted medications are being tested.
Study author Brose said that should be welcome news to a group of patients who may have thought their disease was forgotten. "There are options out there," she said, "and researchers are pursuing them."
Learn more about thyroid cancer from the American Cancer Society.
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