Crucial cancer drugs in critical short supply

Fighting cancer is hard enough, even with the best medical care.

Now imagine being a cancer patient and being told that the supply of a chemotherapy drug you need to survive has suddenly run out.

CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook reports that there is one California woman who doesn't have to imagine it. She's living it.

Marcia Goodman, 56, has ovarian cancer. She was supposed to get chemotherapy Wednesday, but her clinic just ran out of her medicine.

"I was just starting to feel hopeful this drug would work. My heart just sank," Goodman says.

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Her oncologist had prescribed Doxil, and said the drug had the best chance of controlling the cancer she's battled since 1998.

"You invest all your hope and belief in the drug that your doctor has chosen with you at the moment because clearly that's the one that everybody thinks will help you. And so if that drug is suddenly not available it's like a train that's suddenly left the tracks. You feel like its crashed," Goodman says.

Doxil is just one of nearly 200 chemotherapy drugs in short supply, like Cisplatin, used to treat testicular, ovarian and bladder cancers, and Paclitaxel, commonly used for ovarian & breast cancers. Many new cancer drugs are often made by single manufacturers, so any disruption can result in shortages.

"We're going through an unprecedented period of extreme shortage of many key therapies to treat cancer," says drug supply expert Adam Fein, who blames hoarding for being part of the problem.

"If there's a rumor of a drug shortage, every hospital and every doctor tries to get as much of that drug as they can," Fein says.

The company that makes Doxil recently issued alert of "production delays," and suggested new patients not begin treatment. But Goodman had already started. She cannot believe a drug shortage could now threaten her life.

"Chemotherapy keeps you alive. It's as simple as that," Goodman says.

Janssen, which makes Doxil, told CBS News the company is working closely with the FDA on a plan to get the drug to doctors as soon it becomes available. It expects the supply to improve in late August for the 7,000 people who use it.

Several doctors interviewed by CBS News say they are beside themselves at not having all the tools of their trade.


Follow Dr. Jon LaPook and producer Amy Burkholder on Twitter at @DrLaPook and @AmyBurkCBSNews

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook

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