Survey: Many Americans Unaware of Cancer Drug Shortages


Most of the survey respondents were unaware of oncology drug shortages but would want to be told about any therapy substitutions caused by short supply.

In a nationally representative US survey, many individuals reported that they were unaware of oncology drug shortages that may cause patients to receive less effective or more toxic treatments, according to a study published in Cancer.

The survey included responses from 420 adults, of which only 16% responded that they knew about shortages of cancer drugs, according to the study. Among cancer survivors who responded to the survey, just 31% were aware of drug shortages.

Survey respondents were more likely to be aware of drug shortages if they were white, older, employed, insured, and had more income and education, according to the study.

Cancer drug shortages have become an increasingly persistent problem in oncology, leading to treatment delays, changes in drug regimens, and missed or suboptimal doses. For patients undergoing cancer treatment, shortages can lead to treatment changes that can impact their care, the researchers noted.

The survey, which was conducted online in 2016, evaluated how often patients were aware of drug shortages, whether they would want to be told about drug shortages during their own cancer treatment, and whether they might try to seek care somewhere else when faced with a shortage.

Overall, 87% of respondents said that they would want to be told about any therapy substitutions caused by drug shortages when the alternative medications had major differences or adverse effects, although most also wanted to know about minor differences as well.

Seventy-two percent of respondents reported that they would transfer care to another physician or health system to gain access to the medication in short supply, according to the survey. Less than half would transfer to avoid minor differences in efficacy. Additionally, 61% said they would transfer care to avoid major differences in adverse effects, whereas 40% said they would transfer care to avoid minor differences in adverse effects.

The survey results also indicated that many individuals reported receiving information about drug shortages from the news or the Internet.

The study wasn’t designed to determine whether or how awareness of drug shortages may impact patients’ treatment decisions and it also wasn’t designed to assess any direct impact of shortages on health outcomes for cancer patients, the researchers noted.

Overall, the data indicate that much of the US population is unaware of cancer drug shortages and most of those receiving cancer treatment would want to know about drug substitutions impacted by shortage, the researchers concluded.


Frosch ZA, Cronin AM, Gagne JJ, et al. Cancer drug shortages: Awareness and perspectives from a representative sample of the US population. Cancer. 2018.

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