Could pharmacists help detect cancer earlier?

Researchers suggest that better engagement with pharmacists over early cancer symptoms could help with earlier diagnosis

The researchers, from the University of Aberdeen, say that few studies in the UK have investigated pharmacists’ potential to do so.

They set out to look at how patients managed their early symptoms of cancer, to identify to what extent they engaged with pharmacists and consider the potential role for pharmacists to facilitate appropriate management and appraisal of such symptoms.

They identified a number of patients with lung, colorectal or gastro-oesophageal cancer who had been diagnosed in the previous 12 months, and interviewed 25 of them.

Of these patients, two-thirds were male and more than half had lung cancer.

The researchers conducted semi-structure interviews which were recorded, transcribed and critically analysed.

“Although all had experienced potential cancer symptoms prior to diagnosis, most underestimated seriousness and misattributed causation,” they wrote.

“Symptoms were managed by lifestyle changes and self‐selecting medicines from local shops, supermarkets and pharmacies but without engaging with the pharmacist.”

Involving pharmacists, or even pharmacy staff, during the sale of these medicines could have facilitated an earlier diagnosis, they suggests.

“Further research is needed to quantify how many patients with symptoms suggestive of cancer present in community pharmacies to understand if a pharmacist’s role in facilitating symptom management and appraisal of potential cancer symptoms would be acceptable and effective, before developing any interventions.”

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