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US doctors are rationing lifesaving cancer drugs amid dire shortage

A pharmacy technician holds up a dose of paclitaxel and carboplatin to be verified before being delivered to the patient.

Enlarge / A pharmacy technician holds up a dose of paclitaxel and carboplatin to be verified before being delivered to the patient. (credit: Getty | Richard Lautens)

For cancer patients in the US right now, a horrifying reality may follow the devastating diagnosis—their malignant disease may go undertreated or even untreated.

The country is in the grips of a dire shortage of cheap, generic platinum-based cancer drugs used to treat various cancers in hundreds of thousands of US patients each year—patients with lung, breast, bladder, ovarian, testicular, endometrial, and head and neck cancers, and others.

Despite being in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, US doctors are being forced to ration the cisplatin and carboplatin drugs. That means prioritizing cancer patients who have a shot at being cured over patients at later stages, in whom the drugs may simply slow progression and buy time. Still, those with curable cancers may not get a full dose; some may only have 80 percent or 60 percent of standard doses available to them. And doctors don’t know how these partial doses will affect patient outcomes.

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