LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Across the country, the shortage of essential drugs used for cancer treatment is being felt by many but in Arkansas, officials with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences said it’s doing everything it can to stay on top of it. 

UAMS officials said they have around 900 cancer patients. Assistant Director of Pharmacy Business Operations for UAMS, Chris Hutts said last December they got wind that a shortage would come, so they started to prepare for it right away. 

He says as of right now they have not run out of any cancer drug, but several drugs used for chemotherapy have been harder to get than most. 

“We are seeing cisplatin, carboplatin, methotrexate, fludarabine.” Hutts adds, “A lot of shortage are some of the platin’s are like cisplatin and carboplatin.”

Hutts said several things could be to blame. 

“A lot of it is probably the fallout from covid and disruptions of the supply chain and workforces, active pharmaceutical ingredients, and the factories that make them. A lot of the ingredients come from overseas, and we are just at a delay getting those,” Hutts said. 

He says he is working with clinicians to prioritize drugs for the patients most in need. 

“We do some dose rounding, making sure we don’t have any waste or any vials,” Hutts said.

Hutts goes on to say they’re also making sure they have alternative plans for therapy options for patients just in case because the dangers of them not having any drugs for their treatment is risky. 

“Their therapy will be delayed, and it could have patient outcomes that are not favorable and so we do the best we can to find an alternative therapy,” Hutts said.

Hutts also said sometimes patients will have to switch their therapy drugs because of the shortage. 

Mark Pulliam who was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity in February knows all too well about having to switch chemotherapy drugs.

“A doctor informed me there was a nationwide shortage on cisplatin that they had started me on,” Pulliam said. 

He adds that he was switched from cisplatin to carboplatin, but at the time he had no idea there was also a shortage in that. However, he says since the switch, he has always received his treatment.

Pulliam found out he was diagnosed with cancer at UAMS, he had a fast-growing tumor in his mouth that he would have to have surgery on just days after being diagnosed. 

“Based on the rate this thing is growing, a doctor said we need to get you in quicker,” Pulliam said.

Despite the switch, Pulliam is just happy there was a drug available, even if it’s also among the shortage list although he says the side effects he could do without. 

“On the carboplatin, it’s very hard on your blood counts,” Pulliam said.  

Sara Abernathy was diagnosed with cancer in August of 2019 with stage 2A invasive ductal carcinoma.

She says during her chemotherapy she had a mixture of drugs, one of which was carboplatin. She says the chemo drugs worked a miracle. 

“My tumor had a 100 percent reaction to the chemo drugs so there was none left in my body,” Abernathy said. 

She was cancer free in April 2020, she says she hopes the shortage of cancer drugs does not affect others from becoming cancer free. 

“Knowing now that cancer patients don’t have that option (to receive all of the chemo drugs) it’s really sad,” Abernathy said. 

Pulliam says he is surprised by the shortages in the medication, but hopes he can also one day be cancer free.

“As soon as treatment is over I hope to resume as much of a normal life as I can and be cancer-free,” Pulliam said. 

Hutts says that as of right now, they have not run out of any cancer drugs but have had close calls, but because of back orders coming in time it resulted in them still stock left. 

He also says he is not sure how long the shortage will last which is why they are being very strategic to make sure they continue to provide cancer patients with the necessary treatment.