Chemo Drugs in Short Supply

Bay Area cancer clinics are being impacted.

Cancer patients may be stunned to learn that there is a problem with the drugs that could save their lives.  The chemotherapy drugs that can be their best chance for survial are in short supply.  The shortage is having an impact on Bay Area's cancer clinics.

Doctors at Packard Children's Hospital told NBC Bay Area's Jean Elle that they have had to substitute effective cancer fighting drugs with less effective treaments because of the shortage.

Doctor Michael Link says the shortage is impacting patients of all ages.  "You can imagine an oncologist facing a woman with cancer saying we either have to substitute the treatment or delay therapy," Link said.

Doctors in Southern California said the shortage of chemotherapy drugs is a product of greed from drug manufacturers. Unfortunately it’s not a new problem and it has slowly worsened over the last several years.

”It's frightening and if you think that happens with one drug, is that going to happen with other drugs? I still have two months to go and maybe additional chemo is down the road, so it's concerning,” said Southern California patient Kathy Winn.

Winn is being treated for inflammatory breast cancer, which is an aggressive form of cancer with a 40-percent, five-year survival rate. Two of the drugs Winn has used are on the list of list of those in short supply.

Drugs like Doxorubicin and Leucovorin have, at times, been in short supply but not yet in danger of running out. Still, this is very frustrating for doctors who say the problem is being caused by declining profit margins for manufacturers.

“The drugs that are in short supply are all the ones that have been around for quite some time and there isn't a big profit to be made, so the number of manufacturers is decreasing for those important drugs,” said Kaiser Senior Oncologist Dr. Jonathan Polikoff.

Doctors are staying in close contact with their pharmacies to make sure the drugs they need are on hand.

So how do you fix the problem?

Polikoff says it's a problem that must be addressed by the FDA and it's on their radar screen. He’s says it’s hard to say what the solution is but that the manufacturers are clearly going to have to get involved.

Ultimately, they could raise the prices on all of the drugs in short supply.

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