Why should pharmacists know about pancreatic cancer?

Pharmacist Ade Williams tells us, in his own words, why pharmacists and their teams should know about pancreatic cancer and take the pharmacy e-learning module...

pharmacy plays a crucial role in aiding early diagnosis, which can significantly improve a patient's chance of survival

Community pharmacy has a well-evidenced history of championing patient education and providing brief health interventions, which are not only effective but always well received. We pride ourselves on the fact that we are able to readily offer access to our expertise to help in all matters medicinal, clinical or well-being related.

Pancreatic cancer is one such disease that irrespective of practice setting; pharmacist, technicians and all colleagues in their team have been called upon to make help make a difference. At a time of multiple health needs and challenges, I believe pancreatic cancer will benefit from us rallying to answer this urgent call.

Any cancer diagnosis brings great anguish and anxiety for a patient and their loved ones. Pancreatic cancer, the fifth biggest cancer killer even more so. An emergency admission is most commonly how half of the 26 patients diagnosed today will find out. Sadly, due to the extremely low survival rate of the disease, 24 of them will die within five years.

Ali Stunt, a pancreatic cancer survivor and founder of Pancreatic Cancer Action shares her patient journey story with great eloquence and grace. Do read it or listen to it if you haven’t done so already.

Importantly, Pancreatic Cancer Action has asked pharmacy professionals to join their fight against the disease. Their presence at the Pharmacy Show 2017 was to launch the NPA-accredited pharmacy training e-module, “Pancreatic cancer – the role of the pharmacy team” for the whole pharmacy team being just one of such initiatives to reach out.

To understand why pharmacy teams are important, consider this: presently only 2 people that get a pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2017 will live beyond 2022. If they were however diagnosed and referred earlier for surgery, that number increases from 2 to 13.

Pancreatic Cancer Action has stated, and I know all pharmacy professionals will affirm likewise, ‘‘pharmacy is well placed to spot potential signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer. Pharmacy, therefore, plays a crucial role in aiding early diagnosis, which can significantly improve a patient’s chance of survival.’’

As a reminder, the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Jaundice
  • Mid-back pain
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • New-onset diabetes (not associated with weight gain)
  • Pain on eating
  • Dyspesia
  • Steatorrhea (presence of fat in stools)

The Pharmacy e-learning module, which also helps us reflect on the communication skills needed when speaking to customers who are suffering from or showing symptoms of pancreatic cancer, is one of the many resources available from this organisation to support pharmacy professionals. Their work and resources supporting patients and their families is even more extensive and varied and are certainly worth getting familiar with.

At Bedminster pharmacy, a healthy living pharmacy in Bristol, we know we are well placed to meet the associated risk factors for smoking, diabetes, obesity and chronic pancreatitis. Older patients, sometimes less likely to want to trouble the GP, are also at increased risk so as the health professionals with the most contact with them, we will make sure as we do with everyone else we make every contact count.

So what can we all do?

1. Make sure we access the educational resources and learning modules to empower patients and health professionals.

2. Early referral is a key measure of survival, so let’s follow up on our chats with patients presenting with symptoms. It can make all the difference.

3. Let’s advocate and support the ongoing work to access more research funding and also develop improved diagnosis and treatment pathways for patients.

To find out more about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Pharmacy e-learning module, click here. 

About Ade Williams

Pharmacist Ade Williams

Ade Williams is Lead Pharmacist at the multi-award winning Bedminster Pharmacy, a Healthy Living Pharmacy in South Bristol. He was the UK Community Pharmacist of the Year 2017 and the inaugural Royal Pharmaceutical Society Patient Champion 2017.

He actively works to increase public understanding of community pharmacies’ work and roles within the NHS whilst also highlighting ways to broaden access to the extensive expertise offered by the whole pharmacy team.