Cancer drug shortage hits Anchorage

Posted: Monday, November 22, 2010

ANCHORAGE - A national shortage of a chemotherapy drug has hit Anchorage.

The shortage of doxorubicin is disrupting treatment for patients and could affect dozens more if it continues, according to local cancer doctors. The generic drug is also known as Adriamycin.

Doxorubicin is a common choice to treat certain breast cancer patients, said Dr. Greg Marino, director of hematology-oncology at Alaska Native Medical Center. The drug can lower the risk of the cancer coming back, he said.

Breast cancer patients have alternatives but doxorubicin is vital to helping cure lymphoma, another form of cancer, Marino told the Anchorage Daily News.

"This is the agent that has revolutionized our treatment of Hodgkins and some of the non-Hodgkins lymphomas," he said.

Other choices for lymphoma are not backed by the same level of evidence or are more toxic, he said.

"This is terrible," Marino said. "You don't expect this is 2010 in the United States of America."

The federal Food and Drug Administration is seeing a record number of drug shortages this year, said Valerie Jensen, associate director of the FDA's drug shortage program. Underlying all the causes, she said, is the drugs are not as profitable as other newer ones.

The FDA lists shortages and their causes. In the case of doxorubicin, one of three firms making it had manufacturing delays, and the other two have been trying to take up the slack, Jensen said.

At Katmai Oncology Group in Anchorage, Dr. Jeanne Anderson said she and her colleagues met to decide who most needs the drug.

"The small supply we have left we have to keep for our lymphoma patients," she said. "We're OK for this week."

"In a week or two it's quite possible we will have to tell our lymphoma patients ... that it's possible the top-line treatment isn't available," Anderson said.

For breast cancer patients, it may mean changing course in the middle of chemotherapy and making a judgment call about the right dosage, she said.

A woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer said she was shocked when Anderson told her Thursday that doxorubicin, one of her main chemotherapy drugs, was not available.

"I looked at her and said, 'You gotta be kidding me,'" said the woman, who did not want to be identified because many people she knows are unaware that she has cancer. "This one kind of slapped me right in the face."



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