How community pharmacy can support patients who have pancreatic cancer

BedminsterPharmacy Meeting Award 2018

Pharmacies are at the forefront of every community. More than ever people are visiting their local pharmacy team first for clinical advice and health concerns and buying over the counter medication. Quite often pharmacists will see customers on a weekly basis and have insight into their lives which can be crucial in spotting the symptoms of an illness or disease, for example pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is currently the UK’s fifth biggest cancer killer with more than one person dying every hour. However, new research shows that by 2026 it will become one of the UK’s top 4 cancer killers and by 2025 deaths from pancreatic cancer are predicted to be 25% higher than breast cancer in the European Union (EU). What’s more, pancreatic cancer survival rates have sat below 7% for almost 50 years.

This is because pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed too late for effective treatment to be an option. The symptoms presented can often appear vague. For example, indigestion, pain on eating, mid-back pain, change in bowel habit and unexplained weight loss. It is these symptoms that pharmacies can look out for and suggest further investigation which will aid earlier diagnosis.

Ali Stunt is founder and CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Action (PCA), a charity which focuses specifically on improving pancreatic cancer survival rates through early diagnosis. Ali was just 41 years old when her symptoms started. She had mid-back pain which radiated to the front, pain on eating, a change in bowel habit and was losing weight without trying.

Ali was misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion and gallstones – which are all seemingly common misdiagnoses of the disease. It took being seen privately for Ali to be diagnosed with a 5cm cancerous mass on her pancreas which was luckily caught in time for surgery – currently the only cure. Ali is now a 11 year survivor, something which around only 1% of patients achieve.

Shocked at the dire statistics for pancreatic cancer, Ali founded PCA with the aim of improving survival rates of pancreatic cancer through early diagnosis. One of the ways the charity aims to achieve this is through working with pharmacy teams.

Ade Williams, lead pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy and PCA Pharmacy Ambassador supports the charity with this aim. He actively works to increase public understanding of pancreatic cancer and believes that pharmacy plays a crucial role in aiding early diagnosis.

Recently, Ade was having frequent visits from a patient, Esme. One day she presented Ade with a prescription for strong anti-inflammatory medications which prompted him to find out the underlying problem.

Esme was receiving treatment for back pain and was undergoing investigations. Her pains were unresponsive to therapy which was somewhat baffling as she was an otherwise healthy 50 year old.

Esme’s symptoms were in fact pancreatic cancer and she has sadly since passed away from the disease. Early diagnosis could have saved Esme’s life.

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. 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.

Pharmacies are well placed to spot the associated risk factors such as 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, pharmacy teams have a key role to play.

Pancreatic Cancer Action is calling out for pharmacies to join Ade and Bedminster Pharmacy and take part in their new Turn it PurpleTM Pharmacy of the Year Award. The Award is taking place this November for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and it isn’t too late to get involved.

The campaign encourages pharmacies to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer in their community as well as further their own education by taking a free online e-learning module on pancreatic cancer. The module is NPA accredited and can help pharmacists and pharmacy assistants to understand the disease and identify pancreatic cancer.

More information

You can find out how your pharmacy can help raise awareness of pancreatic cancer or take the e-learning module here:

You can find out about the Award and how to enter on PCA’s website:

The charity are also providing free packs for pharmacies to get involved!

 the authors:

Source: Courtesy of Pancreatic Cancer Action

Ade Williams (left) is superintendent pharmacist at MJ Williams Independent Pharmacy in Bristol.

Ali Stunt (right) is a pancreatic cancer survivor. She is also founder and CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Action (PCA), a charity which focuses on improving pancreatic cancer survival rates through early diagnosis. 

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, How community pharmacy can support patients who have pancreatic cancer;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205642

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