Shortages of crucial cancer drugs are threatening the care of patients who are
already fighting for their lives, a new study shows.
About 83% of cancer specialists reported a drug shortage in the past six months,
and 92% said patients' care has been affected, says the survey of 245 doctors
presented Monday at the Chicago meeting of the American Society of Clinical
The survey found 38% of doctors switched from a generic to a name-brand drug,
which can vastly increase the cost of treatment, says the study, co-written by
Keerthi Gogineni at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
The oral drug capecitabine, for example, costs 140 times as much as a generic
intravenous drug, 5-FU, which is the backbone of chemotherapy regimens for many
There were 251 drug shortages of all kinds in 2011 and 121 in 2012, according to
the Food and Drug Administration. Most of the drug shortages have been the
result of problems in manufacturing processes that shut down production, the FDA
Some hospitals hold the equivalent of lotteries to decide which patients receive
a drug, says cancer researcher William Li, executive director of the
Angiogenesis Foundation, which sponsors research of blood vessel growth.
A study in December from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital linked drug
shortages to higher relapse rates among young people with Hodgkin lymphoma. The
number of patients who were cancer-free after two years fell from 88% before the
shortage to 75% after doctors had to substitute an alternate drug.
Many of the shortages involve sterile injectable drugs commonly used in
oncology, Gogineni says.