Pharmacists – the new guardians of breast cancer care?

By guest blogger Chanice Henry, Editor, Pharma IQ

In the fight against one of the world’s most widespread diseases, new research has found that pharmacists are key in the optimisation of medical treatment for breast cancer patients.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer that occurs in women. In 2012 there were 1.7 million new diagnoses ­– which equated to 12% of all new cancer cases. Less than one per cent of breast cancer develops in males.

Despite its prevalence, death rates from this form of cancer have been consistently declining over the past 25 years due to better awareness and advancing treatment options. Now authors of recent research are advising the involvement of pharmacist as a bridge between physicians and patients to improve therapy outcomes.

A first line of defence

Researchers have suggested that it is productive for pharmacists to address the worries and concerns of the patient.

The study by C. C. Dang et al notes that: “Pharmacist-led pre-chemotherapy counselling improves patient knowledge and understanding of the chemotherapy regimen received.”

In other areas it has been noted that the involvement of the pharmacist in parts of the primary health care system can have positive impacts on drug costs and the length of hospital stays.

Industry understanding of the disease

Like all cancers, breast cancer develops due to a DNA mutation that drives the haphazard reproduction of breast cells into a malignant tumour.

Although there is no definitive cause for the trigger of breast cancer, experts propose that certain life events may increase the risk of its onset.  These include, exposure to radiation from medical treatment, use of hormone therapies and menopause.

North America, Sweden and Japan boast an 80% breast cancer survival rate, however the rate plummets for countries with less financial clout. This is understood to be down to the lower level of early detection programs for breast cancer in these regions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) notes early detection and diagnosis as the “cornerstone of breast cancer control”.  Detection measures include awareness of the signs and symptoms of the condition and screening programs to identify those who may have a susceptibility to the disease.

Advances in medical treatment for breast cancer

By advancing understanding on the mechanics of this disease, many are working to revolutionise how breast cancer is treated.

Researchers are evaluating how gene variations may link to this condition and, possibly, cure it.

Funding is being channelled into targeted therapies and genomic assays, to target the genes that drive the creation, growth and spread of these cancerous cells.

Through these therapies, health providers can select the treatment most suitable for an individual and their phenotype system. For instance, intraoperative radiation therapy aims to deliver radiation with more precision than other methods.

Patient education on treatment and its side effects

Chemotherapy is one of the traditional treatments used for this type of cancer – which aims to destroy multiplying cancer cells. However, it has extensive side effects – including, alopecia, vomiting, mucositis and diarrhoea.

These side effects are best controlled when patients have a solid awareness of their condition and treatment.

C. Dang et al identified studies with a large number of patients reporting a poor understanding of their treatment and being unable to recall what doctors had told them about their chemotherapy regimen.

Also the sufferer’s inactivity in decision making, due to their inadequate awareness levels, could negatively impact the long-term outcomes of their medication.

This in turn complicated the chances of patients adhering to their prescribed treatment and advice.

While assisting patients combatting this traumatising disease, healthcare systems should consider empowering those diagnosed with breast cancer by educating them through their pharmacist.

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