A nationwide cancer drug shortage is leaving some key Chicago hospitals scrambling. The shortage affects cisplatin, etoposide and doxorubicin—drugs that treat breast, ovarian, bladder and lung cancers. “The situation is worse than any time I can remember in recent years,” said Dr. Richard Schilsky, professor of medicine and chief of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Chicago.
While occasional shortages can be a common occurrence, this appears to be the first time oncology drugs have been involved. “I’ve been a medical oncologist for 25 years and have never come across this before,” said Dr. Melody Cobleigh, professor and director of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center at Rush University. Despite this, both doctors say they haven’t had to refuse or restructure treatment for any patients yet.
But when such important drugs are in short supply, physicians are forced to make decisions about who-gets-what treatment. According to Schilsky, in these cases doctors use a priority tree to determine the appropriate course of action. The priority tree takes into account factors like the patient’s diagnosis and treatment goals. Are they attempting a cure or merely prolonging life?