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Key cancer drug shortage prompts doctors to ration doses

Other options to treat cancer may have potentially more side effects, specialists say

By Web Desk
May 28, 2023
This representational picture shows an IV pack. — Unsplash/File
This representational picture shows an IV pack. — Unsplash/File

The US is facing widespread shortages of cancer drugs, forcing doctors to ration doses and turn to other treatment options that may have severer side effects.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has listed 14 cancer drugs in shortage in the US as of Wednesday.

“The oncology [drug] shortage is especially critical,” FDA Commissioner Dr Robert Califf told NBC News.

“I’m a former intensivist doctor and I’m very aware of the consequences if you can’t get needed chemotherapy,” he added.

Carboplatin, one of the drugs listed as in shortage, is a chemotherapy agent used as a first-line treatment for a number of cancers.

“Carboplatin is such an important drug for the treatment of many cancers — breast cancer, ovarian, head and neck, lung cancer, among several others,” said Dr Lucio Gordan, president of Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute. 

According to Gordan, within a span of nearly two weeks, they had run out of the drug completely.

“I’ve been doing this for 20-plus years. This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Drug shortages are at all-time highs, according to a March study from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. 

Between 2021 and 2022, there was an "almost 30% increase in new medicine shortages." A historic five-year high of 295 active medicine shortages existed by the end of 2022, said the report.

Dr. Julie Gralow, the chief medical officer and executive vice president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology said: “I don’t know of a time that’s worse than this."

She added: “What’s different about this shortage is, I think, it’s just the broad applicability of these drugs, how important they are, you know, globally, in the US, in the treatment of many diseases.”

Florida Cancer Specialists had been observant enough to predict the shortage and tried to prepare. 

They've been restricting carboplatin doses for the past few months by rounding them down by 10%, which, according to Gordan, doesn't affect the medication's effectiveness.

“We have been rounding down for a while,” he said. “But we just ran out of the drugs, so there’s nothing to be rounded.”