NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Oncologists are currently finding it hard to get a drug that is used to treat bladder cancer.
The Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine (BCG) has been the first choice for high-risk bladder cancer patients whose cancer has not spread outside the bladder.
“We have had to modify how we treat patients so we are not able to give them as much of the medication or give it as long as we would like to,” said Dr. Preston Sprenkle, a Urologist with Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital.
Bladder cancer is most common in men. The main risk factors are age and smoking, according to Dr. Sprenkle.
Dr. Sprenkle said that BCG has been effective in keeping bladder cancer from spreading beyond the bladder.
“When they’re diagnosed this medication can be used to significantly decrease the risk of the cancer coming back,” he said.
BCG is not a harsh chemotherapy but rather a highly effective immunotherapy, according to Dr. Sprenkle.
“It uses the body’s own immune system to fight off, fight against the bladder cancer,” he said.
Dr. Sprenkle said alternatives are not as effective.
It’s estimated that 8,300 patients a year nationwide can not get a full course of treatment for bladder cancer due to the drug shortage.
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Dr. Sprenkle said as they wait for the new Merck plant to come online, new alternatives are being tested.
“There are a bunch of clinical trials because of this over the last few years recognizing this that are looking at chemotherapy agents as first line treatments,” he said.
There is some positive news regarding the shortage. Dr. Sprenkle said that even with the reduced dosing the drug is still 80% effective.