A nationwide shortage of generic chemotherapy pills is affecting nearly 90% of treatment centers across the country. The situation could have a significant impact on Americans living with cancer.
Shortages are caused by several overlapping supply chain deficiencies:
- A generic medication may be produced by just a few manufacturers.
- Bottlenecks in production have meant that an interruption with one manufacturer can impact supply nationwide.
- Spikes in demand for drugs have put pressure on an already-stressed supply chain.
This shortage puts patients’ health and lives in jeopardy.
The scarcity of chemotherapy pharmaceuticals means many patients get sub-optimal treatment because drugs simply aren’t available when doctors prescribe them.
More than 50,000 patients each year, for instance, require treatment with platinum-based chemotherapy tablets. (These are highly effective in treating leukemia and lymphoma – as well as cancer in the lung, breast, prostate and reproductive organs). Yet more than a third of cancer centers report being unable to keep patients on their treatment schedule because of shortages.
Forced off their medications, patients must skip doses, take lower doses than prescribed for their condition, or take a less-effective substitute – perhaps one with added side effects. The progressive, destructive nature of cancer makes skipping or missing treatments a costly prospect. The damage to the patient’s body can be irreversible, even life-threatening.
It’s a difficult supply issue, but there is merit in even the smallest of actions.
Though little can be done in the short term, policymakers have acknowledged that there are issues. The FDA reports that about 130 drugs are currently in shortage, and the agency has allowed for importation of foreign-approved versions of these impacted drugs.
Continued investment in – and access to – early detection is another avenue that can help. Earlier diagnosis may reduce the medications and dosages needed by patients to adequately treat their condition.
Congress is taking a holistic look at what policies can help, but drug shortages remain a serious patient challenge for now.