What to do When There’s a Drug Shortage

August 7, 2013

In recent years the number of drugs that are in short supply has been increasing, including drugs used to treat cancer. Most of these shortages are for drugs that are injected, or given intravenously. Some of these shortages are short-term and are caused by problems with shipping and ordering. Sometimes these shortages last longer. This is especially true when the shortage is caused by problems in the manufacturing of the drugs. If you have been diagnosed with cancer and are getting chemotherapy as part of your treatment, it is understandable that you would be concerned about a possible drug shortage.

Recent television reports and newspaper articles about drug shortages can be scary, but it is important to understand that only some of the drugs that are in short supply are drugs used to treat cancer. Even if one of the drugs you are taking is in short supply, there may be other drugs that can be substituted.

So what can you do if you learn that one of the drugs you are taking is in short supply? Communicating with your health care team is the most important thing you can do. Be sure to mention your concerns about this issue to your doctor. If you are just starting treatment, you can ask if the drugs your doctor is recommending are on the list of drugs in short supply. If the answer is yes, you can ask how that might affect your treatment. Are there alternative drugs available? Would the drug be more available at a larger treatment center?

Learning as much as possible about your treatment and your diagnosis and understanding how a drug shortage might affect your treatment will help you to feel more in control and hopeful about your treatment, which in turn will improve your quality of life during cancer treatment.

For more information, read the Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Cancer Drug Shortages fact sheet.

Additionally, our Cancer Support Helpline counselors at 1-888-793-9355 are equipped to help you over the phone if you are concerned about a drug shortage. They can also help you navigate the treatment decision-making process (with or without a drug shortage) through the Open to Options program. Open to Options is also available in-person at many of our locations around the country.