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3 Things Mesothelioma Patients Should Know About the Cancer Drug Shortage

A sign on the outside of an infusion center door reads "CLOSED, National Drug Shortage."

Several important chemotherapy drugs have recently landed on the national drug shortage list. The shortage has caused months-long waits for some treatments, which can have serious consequences for cancer patients.

Unfortunately, two key mesothelioma drugs are part of the shortage. To help patients process this situation, we summarized the important facts below.

1: Shortage Affects Carboplatin and Cisplatin

Cisplatin landed on the national drug shortage list in February, and carboplatin was added in April. Manufacturers cited increased demand as a driving force behind the shortages. But some experts have raised other possibilities, including the drugs’ low profit margins.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration keeps an updated list of drug shortages. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists maintains a similar list with more details about the causes and potential end dates of shortages.

More than half of pleural mesothelioma patients receive systemic therapy. And one of the most common systemic regimens includes either cisplatin or carboplatin. These chemo drugs are a mainstay of mesothelioma treatment and have extended survival for thousands.

A lack of access to cisplatin or carboplatin could negatively impact prognosis. But doctors and cancer centers are working to reduce the effects of these shortages.

2: Healthcare Providers Are Trying to Ensure Access to Treatment

Doctors and hospitals are doing their best to ensure patients get the treatments they need. One center in Florida started rationing carboplatin months before the shortage made the news. They gave patients slightly lower doses than normal but not enough to make the drug less effective.

Some experts have also recommended keeping treatment cycles as long as possible. So if guidelines say to give carboplatin every three to four weeks, the patient should receive it every four weeks.

Potential Treatment Regimen Adjustments for the Cancer Drug Shortage

Patients may experience any of the following changes to their expected treatment plans:

  • Alternative chemo drugs: Doctors may recommend different drugs, especially for patients considered unlikely to respond to the lower stock medications.
  • Extended treatment cycles: Repeat doses may occur at slightly longer intervals, such as four weeks instead of three.
  • Lower but still effective doses: Patients may receive slightly lower chemotherapy doses than usual.
  • Referrals to alternate care centers: Doctors may refer some patients to other treatment providers with the drugs in stock.

We encourage all patients worried about these shortages to talk to their treatment teams. Shortages may differ, even between cancer centers in the same general area. Local providers can help patients find and get the right treatments, despite the shortage.

3: You Can Help by Contacting Legislators

Legislators are aware of cancer drug shortages and some of their causes, but hearing from constituents may encourage them to address these issues. You can contact your representatives and senators to share the personal impacts of these shortages.

You can also work with Angels for Change, an organization dedicated to fighting drug shortages. Together, we can all take small steps to help ensure people have the cancer drugs they need, when they need them.