This is one of the reasons some of the mainstay generic cancer drugs are currently in shortage, Lichtenfeld said. One manufacturer, Ben Venue, had a number of production problems it couldn't fix in a way that would allow it to maintain profitability. The company ultimately chose to go out of business, according to a company news release.
Unfortunately, Lichtenfeld said, this means the problem of drug shortages isn't going away any time soon.
Lichtenfeld said it's not really possible to develop guidelines for substitute drugs because these shortages are moving targets -- what's in short supply today might not be tomorrow, and what's in good supply today could be in short supply months from now.
One expert agreed that the problem is serious.
"This is a real issue with the potential to affect quality of care, and we don't have a lot of direction on which second-line drugs are best," said Dr. Subhakar Mutyala, associate director of the Cancer Institute at Scott & White Healthcare, in Temple, Texas.
"[These shortages] will make health care more expensive," he said. "If we have to spend more on brand-name chemotherapy drugs instead of generic drugs, that money will have to come from another part of the health care system."
Learn more about current drug shortages from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
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