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Canada facing critical shortages of leukemia and thyroid cancer drugs

Canada is currently facing a critical shortage of drugs used to fight thyroid cancer and a form of leukemia. (Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels) Canada is currently facing a critical shortage of drugs used to fight thyroid cancer and a form of leukemia. (Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels)

Canada is currently facing a critical shortage of two drugs: one used to fight thyroid cancer, and another for a form of leukemia.

According to Health Canada, there are currently national shortages of Thyrotropin Alfa, which is used in the treatment of thyroid cancer, and Asparaginase, which is also known as Erwinase and used to treat a form of leukemia, which affects the blood and bone marrow.

It is unclear how many patients are affected.

"Cancer drug shortages continue to be a serious and growing concern within the Canadian health care system that has been impacting delivery of patient care and treatment for years," the Canadian Cancer Society said in a statement to "We know that shortages are deeply worrying to people with cancer and their families – it is simply not acceptable to go without the medication you need."

The shortages follow U.S. reports of the unavailability of important chemotherapy drugs like carboplatin and cisplatin, which are used to treat a range of cancer types. Health Canada says both remain available in the country, which has multiple suppliers.

According to Health Canada, 2022 also saw shortages of cancer medications like Inqovi, paclitaxel powder, hydroxyurea, Zepzelca, and fludarabine, which have all now been resolved.

A Health Canada spokesperson says health care systems are conserving existing supplies of Thyrotropin Alfa while awaiting a resupply from a drug company, which has promised to accelerate manufacturing. Health Canada is tackling the Asparaginase shortage by importing foreign-authorized supplies and authorizing an alternative product known as Rylaze.

"The Department continues to monitor both of these critical shortages closely and is working in collaboration with stakeholders to mitigate impacts on patients," a Health Canada spokesperson told "Drug shortages may occur for many reasons, including issues at a manufacturing site, a shipping delay, difficulty in obtaining raw materials or ingredients, a discontinuation of a drug, or an unexpected increase in demand." reached out to the provinces and several regional and municipal health organizations, many of which noted periodic shortages of oncology drugs. In addition to Thyrotropin Alfa, the thyroid cancer drug, Nova Scotia Health said it was currently monitoring a shortage of Dexrazoxane, also known as Zinecard, which is used in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer. There is currently no impact on patient care.

"Over the last months and years many different cancer drugs have experienced shortages," a Nova Scotia Health spokesperson told "In Nova Scotia, as in other provinces, when there is a drug shortage, cancer care teams get together to make decisions to maximize the best outcome for all the patients on that particular therapy. They discuss other treatment options if they exist and then coordinate and implement strategies."

According to Health Canada, the country is currently facing shortages of at least 23 drugs.

"Drug shortages vary in severity and duration, and not all shortages have an impact on patients," the Health Canada spokesperson said. "Health Canada takes a leadership role when anticipated or actual national drug shortages are identified, working in partnership with provincial and territorial governments, industry stakeholders, healthcare system partners, and patient groups." Top Stories

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