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The Cancer Drug Shortage Is A Serious Problem

Last Sunday’s New York Times featured an op-ed by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, on the oncology drug shortage. It’s a serious problem that’s had too-little attention in the press:

Of the 34 generic cancer drugs on the market, as of this month, 14 were in short supply. They include drugs that are the mainstay of treatment regimens used to cure leukemia, lymphoma and testicular cancer.

Emanuel considers that these cancer drug shortages have led to what amounts to an accidental rationing of cancer meds. Some desperate and/or influential patients (or doctors or hospitals) get their planned chemo and the rest, well, don’t.

Unfortunately, what’s behind this harmful mess is neither a dearth of ingredients nor unsolvable problems at most of the manufacturing plants. Rather, the missing chemotherapies are mainly old and inexpensive, beyond their patent protection, i.e. they’re not so profitable, and not high-priority.

Emanuel proposes that the prices of old oncology meds – drugs that can cost as little as $3 per dose – be raised so that the companies will make it their business to provide them. This seems like a reasonable idea, although I find it a bit too compromising. Why should we raise the costs of any medications above what’s necessary for their manufacture and distribution?

The underlying problem is that we rely on a profit motive to deliver needed health care in the U.S. This kind of financial incentive, even if you find it morally acceptable, doesn’t seem to be working.

That’s why I favor scrapping the system – in which insurance companies siphon off some 30 percent or so of expenses, and pharmaceutical companies take another big cut — and giving patients the care they need, profits aside.

The health care reform bill of 2010 didn’t go far enough. Not even close.

*This blog post was originally published at Medical Lessons*

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2 Responses to “The Cancer Drug Shortage Is A Serious Problem”

  1. Julian Lieb.M.D says:

    New book urges use of antidepressants to treat and prevent cancer.
    “Killing Cancer” by Dr. Julian Lieb reviews the medical literature showing that antidepressants have remarkable anticancer properties.
    In combining a comprehensive review of the international medical literature with clinical observation, Dr Julian Lieb has spearheaded a paradigm shift for cancer. Antidepressants kill cancer cells, inhibit their division, protect nonmalignant cells from damage by ionizing radiation and chemotherapy toxicity, and convert multidrug resistant cells to sensitive. Depression significantly increases the risk of cancer, and increases and accelerates its mortality. Antidepressants are capable of arresting cancer even in advanced stages, and occasionally eradicating it. Studies show that antidepressants are potentially effective for many malignancies, including some notoriously resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. Antidepressants can alleviate pain, alone or in potentiating opiates, as well as many side effects of chemotherapy.
    Lieb points out that the use of inexpensive antidepressants could make cancer treatment available to low-income and disadvantaged segments of the population. By slashing the cost of cancer care, antidepressants could energize health reform, stabilize Medicare, and help to reduce the deficit.
    In making the case for antidepressants, Lieb discusses prostaglandins, molecules that regulate the physiology of every cell in the body. When produced above a critical threshold, prostaglandins cause many disorders, including depression and cancer. By inhibiting the production of prostaglandins, antidepressants can neutralize or defeat cancer. Cancer is not a hundred different diseases, as touted, but one disease with innumerable variations.
    Every patient, physician and citizen has the human and ethical right to evaluate a new treatment approach for themselves, without interference by any third party. They may retrieve additional information by accessing Pubmed or other biomedical database, and entering “cancer” and “antidepressants.”
    “Killing Cancer” is available for sale online at and other channels.
    About the Author
    Dr. Julian Lieb is a retired Yale medical school professor, and author or co-author of 48 articles and 11 books. He is a recognized expert on the immunostimulating and antimicrobial properties of lithium and antidepressants, and the anticancer properties of antidepressants. He has worked closely with pioneers in prostaglandin research, and invited to address cancer conferences in Greece, Germany and India.
    For educational purposes only, all treatment decisions to be made with a physician.
    To verify: Access Pubmed, and enter “antidepressants” and “cancer.”
    Human rights mission. No conflicts of interest.
    Under article19 of the declaration of human rights, this information must be disseminated as widely as possible through every means of communication available locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Evaluation, modification and delay are prohibited.

  2. Michael Moak says:

    Great information! This is very helpful! … especially for those who suffer from disease, they need to know this. Their knowledge about the disease, will determine their actions and to care continue. And for those who are healthy will seek to prevent.

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