Drug shortages worry oncologists

A survey of 200 U.S. oncologists conducted this month by specialty physician portal MDLinx found 90 percent of respondents reporting shortages of key cancer drugs in their practices.

“We have all read about the manufacturing challenges behind the shortages, but I was shocked to find that nearly all our physicians have experienced shortage issues. That represents a lot of cancer patients,” said Stephen Smith, chief marketing officer for MDLinx. “The results become more alarming given the challenges already facing cancer patients and their doctors in the current financial environment. "

In an MDLinx survey in the third quarter of 2010, sixty-seven percent of responding doctors reported patients rationing medications or forgoing treatment due to financial and insurance coverage concerns, Smith noted.

Potentially affected by the shortage are treatment of some of the most common cancers, including cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, and head/neck, as well as various leukemias and lymphomas.

The most frequently mentioned drug in the April 11-12 poll, with 70.5 percent of responding oncologists reporting a shortage, was doxorubicin. Cytarbine and methotrexate were the next two most commonly named drugs in short supply, at 40 and 30.5 percent, respectively.

Smith also pointed out that the combination of shortages, insurance limitations and financial pressures has some patients looking outside the system. “One in ten of our responding oncologists reported that they had experienced desperate patients going into the so-called “grey market” to find cancer meds. In addition to being expensive – the NY Times reported prices up to 650 percent of normal – these drugs may be less effective or even counterfeit,” said Smith.

The survey of also revealed that 42 percent of responding oncologists were concerned with the safety of imported cancer drugs approved on an emergency basis by the Food and Drug Administration, with 31.5 percent saying they were unsure and only 26 percent expressing full confidence in the overseas drugs.

“Some drugs have to refrigerated,” pointed out one oncologist participating in the survey. “I worry about the efficacy of the drug when it has been shipped such long distances.”

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