There is a troubling trend of drug shortages potentially shortening the lives of patients.
A cancer diagnosis is difficult enough, then add to it the news the drug that was effective against your cancer is now not available.
A Chicago area woman is not alone in this frightening scenario. And doctors say their hands are tied.
With every bit of fight in her, Anne Spratt has been battling lung cancer for eight years.
“I was not a priority patient to receive carboplatin or cisplatin,” she said. “I’ve always been willing to do treatments he thought are best for me and after eight years of fighting to find out you’re not a priority is very disheartening.”
Over time it became clear carboplatin was the best treatment for her.
“For four rounds I had carboplatin, Olympus and Keytruda, which kept me very stable,” she said.
But when the cancer lit up her scan again, the carboplatin treatment, the backbone of metastatic disease care, that was so effective for Spratt, was in short supply.
“I was supposed to get four rounds and I’ve only received two,” she said. ”Who is saying that a Stage 2 person or a Stage 1 person or a trial patient is more important than I am? I’ve had great quality of life. For lung cancer patient, for eight years to be battling and have the quality I have is fantastic. I don’t understand why I’m not as important as someone else?”
But her Stage 4 cancer cancels her access. Since the drug will not provide a cure, others who have a better chance are given the drugs.
“I am terribly worried my disease will advance much faster without these medications,” she said.
Northwestern Medicine thoracic oncologist Dr Jyoti Patel is not Spratt’s doctor, but she knows the struggle.
“It’s very difficult to prioritize a particular patient or situation,” she said. We try to use lowest dose we can. We try to use evidence to guide us for reasonable alternatives, but often there aren’t any and we are in a tough situation. … These drug shortages although hitting the news in the past year have been threatened in the cancer community for over a decade. We’ve been working hard to make sure we have a supply.”
The shortages are even more pronounced in underserved communities.
“Unfortunately a lot of it has to do with purchasing power so sometimes smaller hospitals are particularly affected and the existing disparities that occur are further amplified in situations like this,” Patel said. “The shortages have been exacerbated after the pandemic. I think a lot of manufacturers have changed to more expensive drugs where they can make more profits.”
Patients and their loved ones say they have value.
“I’m hoping hospitals, health care systems, will relook at how they prioritize patients,” Spratt said. “My doctor, I’m sure many doctors around the country, are very upset they have to tell patients they can’t receive the treatment they want to give.”
Doctors are trying to change clinical trials to accommodate patients in new ways and are investigating alternatives. Spratt’s treating hospital Ingalls, which is part of University of Chicago Medicine, gave WGN News a statement that said they are working to find other FDA-approved therapies that would be clinically appropriate for her.
For Medical Watch stories and headlines delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Medical Watch newsletter here.