Nationwide cancer drug shortage may be putting some patients at risk

Every woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the U.S. is given two specific drugs during treatment, but the shortages are leaving some without help.
Posted at 2:23 PM, Jul 24, 2023

A nationwide drug shortage is forcing some doctors to ration chemotherapy treatments, and it could be putting patients at risk.

"It's bad. It's bad news," declared Kathleen Maxian, president & founder of the Ovarian Cancer Project.

She says the shortage of two chemotherapy drugs is a major problem for those diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

"In the world of ovarian cancer, there's two drugs: One is called Carboplatin, and the other is called Cisplatin, and these drugs are really old and now they're generic drugs, and this is still the gold standard of care for women who have ovarian cancer," she said.

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Every woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States is given these drugs during treatment, but the shortages are leaving some without help.

"I've heard plenty of stories about, you know, my doctor doesn't have this, or my treatment is delayed, or, you know, I'm being offered something different and so, it's definitely affecting our community," Maxian added.

She said the U.S. experienced a similar shortage back in 2011 when she herself was being treated for her cancer. Maxian was put on a substitute drug that she says made her “incredibly sick,” and she was ready to give up just as the shortage eased.

"I was absolutely going to quit, it was too much. It just felt over the top," Maxian said. "It didn't feel worth it. I had zero quality of life and if I had quit, I don't know if I'd be alive today."

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Western New York Congressman Brian Higgins has been advocating for federal help with the shortage of these cancer drugs. He signed a bi-partisan letter last month, urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary to work with Congress to address supply chain challenges. 

"I'm hoping through the work of Congressman Higgins' office, and the work of the Society for Gynecological Oncologists, and of course the manufacturers themselves that we can do something so that in the future," Maxian said. "We're not looking at having to make ethical decisions about who gets what drug. But it really is up to these manufacturers to make some decisions."

This story was originally published by Eileen Buckley at Scripps News Buffalo.