(HealthDay News) — Over 90 percent of oncologists in the United States reported that shortages of cancer drugs between March and September 2012 affected patient treatment, forcing them to switch to more expensive drugs and generally compromising patient care, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, held from May 31 to June 4 in Chicago.

Zeke Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and colleagues surveyed 214 board-certified oncologists and hematologists in the United States to assess the prevalence of drug shortages between March and September 2012 and their impact on therapeutic decision-making.

According to the researchers, 94 percent of physicians reported that drug shortages affected patient treatment and 83 percent reported that they were unable to prescribe standard chemotherapy. 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 percent of cases, delaying treatment in 43 percent of cases, choosing which patients should receive the drug in 37 percent of cases, and omitting doses in 29 percent of cases. Seventy percent of physicians reported that they had no institutional guidance for decision making.

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“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,” Emanuel and colleagues conclude.

The study was supported in part by a Pfizer Medical and Academic Partnership Research Fellowship in Bioethics.

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