Sioux Falls, SD
Drugs to treat the most common cancers, like breast cancer, are in high demand but in critical, short supply.
“We have to have the drugs. We have to have them on time. And it's something that is very nerve wracking for every oncology practice because it's just something out of our control,” oncologist with Sanford Health Dr. Michael Keppen said.
Keppen says when it comes to treating and curing cancer, timing is everything. And he says doctors shouldn't have to tell someone their curable disease can't be treated because they don't have the medication.
“Some of these drugs can absolutely be critical. There are particular cancers where there's really only one drug that's going to work,” Keppen said.
There are a few reasons behind the nationwide shortage, which involves everything from surgical sedatives to cancer treatments. Keppen says it's because the drugs involved are generic.
“They have very thin profit margins. Pharma drugs are made by companies for a profit. Very thin profit margins on generic drugs. And they just don't have huge stockpiles in case there are any manufacturing problems,” Keppen said.
In some cases, manufacturers can't find enough raw product to meet demand. That has Lynette Seyer, a doctor of Pharmacy at Sanford, working hard to stay on top of the shortage.
“If we know a shortage is coming up, try to order a lot of the drug in so we can maintain the level of care that our patients deserve,” Seyer said.
One of those drugs Seyer is holding on to is called doxorubicin, a drug used to treat and cure a wide range of cancers.
“Patients with breast cancer in particular, a very common cancer, lymphoma, another common cancer and a variety of other cancers. This drug is crucial in the overall plan to control or cure these diseases," Keppen said.
“Pain medications, for instance, there's quite a few that you can interchange, Chemotherapy's not one of those drugs and so we really make sure to, if we can, you know find what other therapy can we put them on, what other drug could we trade out with drug,” Seyer said.
Fortunately only a few patients at Sanford have had their treatment regimens altered because of the shortage and luckily there are some substitutes for the drugs that are in short supply.
If you have questions about a chemotherapy regimen, oncologists are well versed on the shortage so be sure to speak with your doctor.