HealthDay News — More than 90% of U.S. oncologists reported shortages of cancer drugs between March and September 2012, according to results from two surveys presented at the at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Chicago.

In the first study, 94% of 214 board-certified oncologists and hematologists included in the survey said that drug shortages affected patient treatment, and 83% said they were unable to prescribe standard chemotherapy, according to Zeke Emanuel, MD, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

In the second, 59% of surveyed physicians said they were aware of drug shortages, either through personal experience or by seeing others face them, ASCO Chief Medical Officer Richard Schilsky, MD, reported.

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These shortages affected patient treatment, forcing oncologists and hematologists to switch to more expensive drugs, reduce doses and choose among patients to treat the most in need.

The most common chemotherapy drugs affected were leucovorin, liposomal doxorubicin, 5-fluorouracil, bleomycin, and cytarabine.

Physicians reported adapting by switching treatment regimens (often to more expensive branded drugs) in 78% of cases, delaying treatment in 43% of cases, choosing which patients should receive the drug in 37% of cases, and omitting doses in 29% of cases.

The majority of physicians, 70%, reported that they had no institutional guidance for decision making.

Additionally, 13% of respondents said shortages prevented patient enrollment or suspended participation in clinical trials.

The two surveys aimed to determine if ASCO’s legislative and regulatory lobbying efforts have had an effect on ongoing cancer drug shortages and received 390 and 462 responses, respectively.

Although the overall proportion of clinicians that said they knew of ongoing drug shortages fell from 70% in October to 59% in April 2012, 40% of doctors surveyed said that drug shortages have not been resolved and 17% said they were worse.

“Drug shortages in oncology are very common, compromise the delivery of standard care, impede research, and lead to higher costs by using branded drugs instead of generics,” the researchers concluded.


  1. Emanuel Z et al. Abstract #CRA6510. “Impact of oncology drug shortages.” Presented at: ASCO 2013. May 31-June 1, 2013. Chicago.