Cancer drug shortage impacting treatment in Rochester

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The most recent drug shortage is impacting many people who don’t have time to wait for alternatives. 

Cancer centers across the country, including Wilmot Cancer Institute here in Rochester, are trying to manage with fewer chemotherapy options. 

Dr. Daniel Mulkerin is tasked with making sure the right treatments get to the right patients across Wilmot Cancer Institute’s footprint.

“We go as far west as Batavia. We go as far the other way as Geneva. We go as far south as Wellsville, Olean and Elmira and really everything in between,” he explains. 

There are always drug shortages to worry about but recently, the supply of two widely used chemotherapy treatments has gotten dangerously low.

“In particular, the drug Carboplatin had some manufacturing issues, so we changed patterns of prescribing when we know that and that put more pressure on a second medicine called Cisplatin,” Dr. Mulkerin says.

Both Carboplatin and Cisplatin are typically administered hundreds of times a day locally “to patients with very common cancers, breast cancers, lung cancers, intestinal cancers,” says Dr. Mulkerin. 

The pharmacy team at Wilmot saw the shortages coming and were able to prepare.

“We’ve read stories about people being told they can have a half a dose of chemotherapy or people being told that they have to wait a couple of weeks before the next shipment came in. We didn’t have any of those scenarios here,” says Dr. Mulkerin. 

But, adjustments have had to be made – adjustments that at times have slowed the pace of the cancer research going on at Wilmot. 

“If someone were participating in a research program that mandated use of this drug and there wasn’t a guarantee that we had sufficient amount of that drug to do the research over the course of a number of months time, then the research slowed down,” Dr. Mulkerin explains. 

Thankfully, Dr. Mulkerin says, it looks like the shortage is easing some but that doesn’t make it any less stressful for the patients who’ve been impacted.

“We’ve had to adjust a schedule. On our side, we have to work with insurance companies. We have to sort out, do we need to adjust the frequency of treatments and those things. For a patient, that can be a very emotional experience,” he says.