Cancer Patients Face Chemo Crunch

Monday, August 22, 2011 - 7:39am

Drug shortage leaves some scrambling for treatment.

Doctors and cancer patients are struggling with a nation-wide shortage of medications.

Chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer patients are in critically short supply.

Dr. Rupa Subramainian specializes in breast cancer.

The backbone of her treatment is taxol, but for the last year it's been in dangerously low supply.

"Whenever possible, if we are anticipating a shortage, then we will start with a different regimen that does not incorporate Taxol, for instance," she says.

She's also been substituting similar drugs for the more popular ones that are out of supply
And spending additional time to coordinate care with available drugs.

Delaying treatment to accommodate the shortage, even by just one week, is often not on option.

"We've really been talking to our nurses and our case managers. They've been planning ahead by looking at how much drug would be needed, anticipating the volume that we have," Dr. Subramanian says.

The FDA monitors drug shortages.

There are currently hundreds on a national list.

Reasons range from increased demand to manufacturing delays, to no reason at all.

In a recent New York Times op-ed a doctor suggests that because the cancer drugs are now generic, and therefore less profitable, manufacturers are not producing as much supply as before.

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