U.S. Survey Highlights the Impacts of Drug Shortages on Patients and Care

The results of a national survey of health professionals in the United States that was published recently in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy shows that cancer patients are suffering the effects of cancer drug shortages in the form of higher medication costs, delays in chemotherapy, treatment changes, and increased risk of medication errors.

According to the paper, the researchers sent an online survey to 1672 members of the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association and other organizations, focusing on a 12-month period that ended in October 2011. Of the 243 individuals — mostly pharmacists — who responded to the survey, 93 percent reported that in the last 12 months drug shortages resulted in delayed chemotherapy or other changes in cancer drug therapy.

Meanwhile, 85 percent of respondents reported that drug shortages resulted in increased costs, and 10 percent reported that they’d faced reimbursement challenges related to drug shortages. Also, 16 percent of respondents reported having to change therapies leading to “near-miss errors” with 6 percent reporting “one or more actual medication errors attributable to a drug shortage.” The researchers also found that drug shortages caused disruptions to cancer drug development efforts. About 44 percent of represented institutions in the survey reported that they either had to halt or delay enrollment in clinical trials as a result of drug shortages.

The survey also showed that the medications that were most frequently reported to be in short supply were fluorouracil, leucovorin, liposomal doxorubicin, and paclitaxel. Limited availability of these drugs affects patients batting ovarian, breast, and colorectal cancers.

You can access a copy of the researchers’ findings here.


Ali McBride, Lisa M. Holle, Colleen Westendorf, Margaret Sidebottom, et al. National survey on the effect of oncology drug shortages on cancer care American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy April 1, 2013 vol. 70 no. 7 609-617

Uduak Thomas, M.A., is a journalist and science writer specializing in medical research and healthcare. She is Social Media Editor for Cancer InCytes Magazine.

Leave a Comment