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Cancer – supporting your patients and customers

Andrew Bellingham

Andrew Bellingham

Pharmacist | 20+ Years | BPharm | Dip Clin Pharm

Since 2000, Monday 4 February has seen World Cancer Day raise awareness of cancer all over the world. In recognition of this global effort, today we’re bringing you more information about cancer and what you can do to help patients in your community.

More than 1 in 3 people will develop cancer in their lifetimes, and with over 200 types it pays to be aware of the range of symptoms and risks. Cancer occurs when cells divide in an uncontrolled way. When these growths interfere with bodily systems and organ function they can be life-threatening. Cancer can be genetic, but mostly occurs due to changes in a patient’s genes over time, and can be exacerbated by lifestyle factors.

Detection and symptoms of cancer

Recognising the signs can be difficult; with the range of forms of the disease, they can be common to other conditions and perhaps even ignored or dismissed. Be aware, especially with lesser-known conditions such as mouth cancer, you might not see the symptoms or the patient profile that you expect.

Cancer Research UK has published an excellent fact sheet titled ‘Know 4 sure’, which sets out and explains four, really clear signals that we can all look for. It’s a good starting point for a conversation on either the patient or the healthcare professional’s side.

Increased understanding, feeling free to ask questions, and help making decisions will alleviate some of the stress of accepting a diagnosis. There is a wealth of information and support available, and patients should feel comfortable accessing it.

Treatment and the patient journey

Much of the effort in tackling cancer is focused on prevention, where possible, through lifestyle changes. While it’s no guarantee, factors such as healthy eating, exercise and quitting smoking can reduce risk and contribute to overall health.

However, treatment is essential to cancer support and is the phase in which most time is spent with a patient. Treatment depends on the type, stage, and location, as well as the needs of the individual. This may be surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapies, or stem cell and bone marrow transplants.

The role of the pharmacist

As ever, pharmacies are in a critical position in the community. According to Pharmacy Magazine, 1 in 10 people will turn to a pharmacy for advice first. We must be well-informed and ready to support.

Along with recognising the sometimes unlikely signs and symptoms as mentioned, clinical adherence is also crucial. Ensuring patients are taking their medicines correctly, even if they do seem to be re-ordering them, is another area requiring vigilance.

In the UK, various colorectal cancer screening services have been rolled out to at-risk groups. These measures have been shown to reduce incidents of bowel cancer by up to 33%, however, uptake has been as low as 44% in some areas. Pharmacists can build relationships with local screening centres, provide information, and train team members on how to use the screening kits.

Helpful resources

World Cancer Day


NHS and Cancer Research UK bowel cancer screening helpline

     Phone: 0800 707 6060 (Mon to Fri, 8am to 5pm; Sat 8.30am to 12.30pm)

Cancer Research UK

     Phone: 0808 800 4040 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 5pm)






     Phone: 0808 808 00 00 (7 days a week, 8am to 8pm)

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