Abby Alonzo was diagnosed three years ago with Hodgkin lymphoma, a curable cancer that affects the immune system.
"It wasn't as hard on me as I think it was my mom, my brother and my dad," Abby said.
Then 10 years old, Abby began treatment including chemotherapy. Weeks later, she was doing well. But then a drug Abby was getting called mechlorethamine became unavailable because of a shortage. Doctors had to switch to another drug called cyclophosphamide. Studies showed it was a safe and effective alternative.
"We let them go ahead and finish her treatment with that, but then at 12 weeks when we went back for the radiation we had seen she had relapsed," mom Katie Alonzo said.
A new study from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital found that 88 percent of patients who got the original drug, mechlorethamine, were cured of their cancer after two years, while only 75 percent were cancer-free after taking the alternative.
"This is the first study to clearly show that when we substitute one drug for what we think is just an equally good drug that's not always going to be the case," said Dr. Richard Gilbertson of St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.
The Food and Drug Administration says a major reason for these drug shortages is because of problems with quality and manufacturing. But the agency has been working with companies to prevent and resolve problems.
Because of the relapse, Abby had to have a bone marrow transplant, radiation and more chemo. Now 13, she's cancer-free.
"I mean, obviously, it could have been a lot worse," Abby said. "I mean, what if I relapsed another time?"
The drug Abby needed to fight her cancer back then has only recently become available again.
The FDA says it has been able to prevent close to 100 drug shortages this year.
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