The good news for many cancer patients is that modern cancer medications can go a long way toward treating their diseases. The bad news is that sometimes the cancer drugs are nowhere to be found. Drug shortages are affecting an increasing number of cancer patients, who are becoming more and more frustrated. The New York Times' Roni Caryn Rabin spoke to Jenny Morrill, an ovarian cancer patient, who likened the situation to being in the ocean while the person in the lifeboat nearby apologizes for running out of flotation devices. "A lot of things can go wrong when you're in cancer treatment — your white count can go down, you can become too frail to get treatment, the chemo can stop working," Morrill tells Rabin. "One of the things you never consider is that treatment might just not be available."
Morrill isn't alone. In 2011, more than 251 drugs were in short supply, including about 20 chemotherapy drugs, Rabin says. Part of the problem is that recent consolidations and mergers in the pharmaceutical industry have left the burden of manufacturing these drugs on a smaller number of companies, Rabin says. "That means greater repercussions when any single plant experiences production problems, cannot obtain ingredients or fails an inspection, as happened with [Morrill's chemotherapy drug] Doxil," she adds.
Experts say patients should talk to their physicians about the drugs they're taking and whether they're at risk for a shortage or are eligible for substitutions. There may also be a waiting list for drugs, Rabin says. In addition, doctors warn against buying drugs on the internet or from foreign countries as they may not be safe.