CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Food and Drug Adminstrationhas listed 14 cancer drugs as a widespread shortage, forcing doctors to make difficult decisions about how to treat their patients.
The administration is considering the temporary importation of chemotherapy drugs from overseas manufacturers that are currently not allowed to be distributed here in the United States.
Medical experts across the country said the shortage situation is particularly acute for two drugs: cisplatin and carboplatin.
Both are commonly used to treat aggressive stages of cancer. Carboplatin is specifically used to treat a wide range of diseases including testicular, breast, lung and ovarian cancer. It's considered highly effective with minimal side effects.
For Nancy Branson, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2017. She said her doctor told her that she had a tumor the size of a grapefruit. She received a hysterectomy and within weeks, she began chemotherapy.
As the cancer progressed, Nancy took on many treatments and some of the most effective medicines, including carboplatin. However, she held onto hope that she would soon get the drug but that didn't happen.
“I went for my second treatment, a week later, there was still no carboplatin," Branson said. "Then, today, I came and I had my doctor’s appointment and was told it's still not available and because I’m not curable, I definitely not getting carboplatin.”
Nancy said that hearing from her doctor that one of cancer’s most effective treatments is no longer available brought a new reality to fighting for her life.
“That hurt when I heard it," she said. "When I first learned from the nurse that I was not going to get the carboplatin, I was a little irritated. I cried for several days because I read it on the internet, but to get it directly from the doctor was a kick in the stomach."
Doctors said supply chain issues is the main cause of this shortage.
According to a survey by Society of Gynecologic Oncology, doctors in at least 40 states have at least one chemotherapy drug in shortage. Many of them have been rationing how they offer medication and provide patients with their chemo treatments.
The shortages are also caused by other factors including quality concerns and the reality that current profitability of the pharmaceutical industry is very low, making it difficult to invest with new technology standards. Some medical experts believe a long-term solution would require help by Congress and the White house.
For now, Nancy said she’s focusing on the best that is yet to come and checking things off her bucket list, like a trip to Ireland in July.
“I will continue with my chemo with other medications, which is Taxol and Avastin," Branson said. "I’m not going to let the lack of a drug stop me from going. I am not going to stop enjoying life and doing what I want to do."
The FDA is working with manufacturers to make more cisplatin and carboplatin available soon, but it's unclear when doctors and patients could receive it.