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Cancer Drug Shortages Can Cause Complications in Patients at Higher Costs according to National Oncology Pharmacists' Survey

First Posted: Mar 21, 2013 12:08 PM EDT
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The debilitating effects of cancer can leave patients and their family and friends uncertain of where to go next, and according to new research from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, cancer drug shortages can also add another complication-higher costs and greater risks.

A national survey showed that treatment changes and delays for some patients meant worse outcomes, more therapy-related complications and higher costs. The survey asked oncology pharmacists and others involved in managing cancer drug shortages for academic medical centers, community hospitals and other cancer treatment facilities nationwide.

Of the 243 individuals who completed the survey, 98 percent reported having dealt with a shortage of at least one chemotherapy agent or other essential cancer-related drug in the previous 12 months, and 93 percent reported that shortages forced delays in chemotherapy administration or other changes in cancer drug therapy, according to a press release.

Researchers found the shortages also disrupted cancer research and added to the cost and risks associated with cancer treatment. One institution even liked a patient's death to the shortage of medication.

The survey is the first to focus specifically on the impact of cancer-related drug shortages, conducted by the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association and focused on a 12-month period ending in October 2011.

"This survey documents the risk that drug shortages pose to cancer patients of all ages," said the study's senior author, James Hoffman, Pharm.D., an associate member of the St. Jude Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the hospital's medication outcomes and safety officer. "To cure cancer patients we must often use complex treatment regimens, and shortages add unnecessary complexity. Unlike medications for other diseases, there are few, if any, therapeutically equivalent alternatives available for many oncology drugs in short supply.

The results will appear in the April 1 edition of the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy.

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