Shortage of chemotherapy drug affecting dozens of kids with cancer in KC metro

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- This week, the FDA announced a temporary shortage of Vincristine, a chemotherapy agent used in the majority of children with leukemia.

According to the FDA, the shortage could be over by the end of the month. But hospitals could take until December or even January to fully recover.

Children fighting cancer in the metro are already affected by the shortage. According to doctors at Children's Mercy Hospital, about 80 children who need Vincristine are on a wait to get the treatment.

"For the children that are able to delay some of their chemotherapy -- those are children who are in complete remission and are just in what we call a maintenance phase of their leukemia treatment -- we have contacted all of those families, and they are happy or not happy," said Dr. Alan Gamis, oncology section chief at Children's Mercy.

"They are all comfortable with delaying that treatment until the shortage has passed. They continue to receive all their other chemotherapy. It’s just the Vincristine that has to be deferred for a little bit of time."

According to Children's Mercy's website, the health system is taking several steps to deal with the shortage:

  • "We are evaluating our supply at the hospital and identifying available methods for extending our supply.
  • "We are contacting other hospitals and suppliers to seek any available and unused supplies which we might be able to use for our patients.
  • "We are following national guidance and identifying those settings where managing doses of vincristine can be most successfully accomplished with the least impact on outcome."

"Fortunately we do have some children who’s chance of being successfully treated for their cancer will not be substantially altered based on a delay of a couple weeks or a month or two because they receive other chemotherapy agents," Gamis said.

"It’s a very important one, but during that time, we should be able to retain remissions without difficulty and then re-administer those missed doses when the supply is back up."

Regardless, it's frustrating news for many parents.

Maren Matson is an Overland Park five-year-old who was diagnosed with Leukemia in June. On Wednesday, her parents brought her in for chemo at Children's Mercy.

"We went on Wednesday, kind of deja vu of the diagnosis we received," Kirk Matson said. "We have some bad news -- your child cannot receive this chemotherapy today because of the shortage."

Maren received an alternative Wednesday and was able to get treated with Vincristine on Thursday. But her parents are still worried about her and the thousands of other children who rely on the drug.

"You feel helpless, heartbroken. You need answers, and you don’t have them," Kirk Matson said. "You go through all those phases of emotions: angry, sad, scared, confused -- just right back to the diagnosis."

Maren's next Vincristine isn't until the end of next month. Her parents hope the shortage is resolved by then.

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