Drug Shortage Tied to Cancer Relapse in Kids

by Dan Vergano ,  USA TODAY | 2012-12-28

A drug shortage led to cancer relapses in children and young adults in 2010, a real-world consequence of the ongoing problems of drugs in short supply in the USA, a hospital analysis showed for the first time Wednesday.

The finding suggests that substitutes for drugs in short supply can pose unsuspected health risks for patients with cancer. In this case, the generic drug, mechlorethamine, is part of a three-month chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes and spleen that yearly afflicts perhaps 9,000 people, mostly teenagers nationwide.

Mechlorethamine is one of hundreds of drugs that have been in short supply in the past three years, according to the Food and Drug Administration. In the New England Journal of Medicine report led by Monika Metzger of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, physicians show real harm tied to the shortage of the drug in 2010.

"The difference is just shocking. This had a real impact on patients," Metzger says. "We thought the alternative was just as safe, of course, so it was a real surprise when we reviewed the data."

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