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Shortage of blood test tubes affects routine screenings, including for cancer survivors

The FDA warned of the blood specimen collection tube shortage in January.

DENVER — Nine years after surviving cancer — and the chemotherapy, mastectomy and radiation that came with it — Sally Inman knows what it is like to fight. She said she's ready to go to battle again, if her cancer returns. 

"I mean, you don't give up," she said. "At least I don't."

But to fight, Inman, 64, needs to know whether her cancer is back. So last month, she went to her regular checkup to evaluate her tumor markers and complete blood count (CBC). 

"I saw my tumor markers were there and they had gone up," she said. "So I was waiting for my CBC to see if there were any other changes." 

But she never received the blood count results. 

When she asked about it, her doctor's office told her they only ran tests for the tumor markers because of a nationwide shortage of blood tubes.

"I have no words. I’m horrified," Inman said. "How can our doctors be doctors if they don’t get the supplies they need to treat us?" 

The shortage does not currently affect emergency care, 9Health expert Dr. Payal Kohli said. But it does impact doctors trying to make up for screening appointments many patients missed during the pandemic. 

"[It] really ties our hands," Kohli said. "When we're making clinical decisions, we rely very heavily on what that blood test looks like in order to make decisions about care." 

She said it's especially concerning that the shortage has lasted as long as it has. The FDA first warned of low supplies of one type of blood specimen tube last June.

In January, the FDA issued recommendations to doctors outlining how they should prioritize the limited supply of tubes.

"The impact is really going to be felt in the people who are well that we want to keep well," Kohli said. 

The tube is commonly used for testing kidney and liver function, for evaluating medication dosing and for cancer screening for patients like Inman. 

Inman has an appointment Monday for a further scan on an enlarged lymph node, she said. She said she would offer to donate money to help fix the shortage, but it's a global supply chain issue -- not one that can be remedied with a $300 donation.

So for now, Inman said she would stay home -- and stay ready to fight cancer again, if the tests ever tell her she must. 

"I'm just going to live each day to the best of my ability," she said.

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