Cancer Drug Shortages Persist Across U.S.

THURSDAY, Oct. 5, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. cancer centers continue to have shortages of commonly used chemotherapy drugs, a new survey shows, though the medications are not as scarce as they were last June.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), a nonprofit alliance of leading cancer centers, surveyed its network in September.

In all, 72% of cancer centers surveyed reported a continued shortage of carboplatin. And 59% were still seeing a shortage of cisplatin.

These two platinum-based generic chemotherapy medications are recommended for treating many different cancers.

Overall, 86% of centers surveyed said they were short on at least one type of anti-cancer drug.

A survey in June showed that 93% of cancer centers had a shortage of carboplatin, and 70% of cisplatin.

“Everyone with cancer should have access to the best possible treatment according to the latest evidence and expert consensus guidelines,” said Dr. Robert Carlson, chief executive officer for NCCN.

“Drug shortages aren’t new, but the widespread impact makes this one particularly alarming. It is extremely concerning that this situation continues despite significant attention and effort over the past few months. We need enduring solutions in order to safeguard people with cancer and address any disparities in care,” Carlson said in a NCCN news release.

Twenty-nine of the NCCN's member institutions responded to the September survey. They include leading academic centers across the United States.

The findings may not reflect additional challenges that smaller community practices serving rural and marginalized patients are experiencing.

The centers surveyed were using strict waste management strategies, so nearly all were still able to provide the medications to all patients who needed them.

Other medications in short supply included methotrexate, with 66% of centers reporting a shortage; 5-fluorouracil, with 55% falling short; fludarabine at 45%; and hydrocortisone at 41%.

“These drug shortages are the result of decades of systemic challenges,” said Alyssa Schatz, NCCN's senior director of policy and advocacy. “We recognize that comprehensive solutions take time."

Schatz said the network appreciates those who have put forth proposals to improve investment in generics.

“At the same time, we have to acknowledge that the cancer drug shortage has been ongoing for months, which is unacceptable for anyone impacted by cancer today,” Schatz said. “These new survey results remind us that we are still in an ongoing crisis and must respond with appropriate urgency.”

The organization is continuing to advocate for more supplies.

CNN recently reported that two other drugs used for cancer, vinblastine and dacarbazine, went into shortage in September.

“These drugs are particularly used to treat patients with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is probably one of the most curable types of cancers out there,” Dr. Doug Hawkins of the Children's Oncology Group, a research organization, told CNN.

“The problem is never-ending. It is horrible,” he added. “I mean, to say to a patient, ‘we know how to treat your child, but we can’t get the drugs,’ and this is America, and it’s 2023 — it’s crazy.”

More information

The White House has more on strengthening the supply chain for cancer drugs.

SOURCES: National Comprehensive Cancer Network, news release, Oct. 5, 2023; CNN, Sept. 26, 2023

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