Community pharmacy can play a key role in the early detection of pancreatic cancer, as Ade Williams explains.


Last year, Bedminster Pharmacy took part in the Pancreatic Cancer Awareness campaign, holding a Turn it Purple day, generating a lot of media attention and winning a national award for their efforts.

Patients sharing a story about their male pharmacist wearing a bright purple wig was making the rounds. Even for an area with a reputation for some striking artistic impressions, this generated a lot for interest.

I subsequently got asked to join Hugh Grant and Dr Hilary Jones as a national ambassador for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Charity.

What was this all about? Every November, pharmacies across the UK take part in Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month campaign, many hold a Turn it Purple event or day to help us raise awareness of the disease amongst their local communities.

Pancreatic Cancer Action has stated, and I know all pharmacy professionals will affirm likewise, that “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.”

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 can readily offer access to our expertise to help in all matters medicinal, clinical or well-being related. We are not just in but part of our communities, facilitating ongoing face-to-face care.

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 27 patients diagnosed today will find out. Due to late diagnosis, effective treatment is rarely an option and therefore less than seven in 100 of those diagnosed will survive beyond five years but with our help that rises to 30 in 100.

Ali Stunt is the founder of the Pancreatic Cancer Action (PCA). She is a pancreatic cancer survivor and tells her own patient journey story with great eloquence and grace. She has a stern resolve that comes from being in a place you would never wish anyone else to be.

The PCA has been working to identify and develop strategic partnerships. Their coalition is expansive and global, involving policymakers and governments, health professionals, researchers and, most importantly, patients and their families.

It would be good enough if earlier diagnosis, better effective treatments, tailored support for patients and their loved ones alongside improved survival rates was the extent of the PCA’s stated ambitions. It is much more than this.

As the name suggests, it is about taking action to gather all the best resources and skills to defeat pancreatic cancer. This is why they have identified pharmacy as crucial partners in this effort.

Early diagnosis is a vital part of the NHS cancer strategy and we all know community pharmacy has a pivotal role to play delivering the desired outcomes. Healthy Living Pharmacies are uniquely well placed to meet the associated risk factors for smoking, diabetes, obesity and chronic pancreatitis.

Older patients, less likely to want to trouble anyone with some of these symptoms, have an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. As the health professionals with the most contact with them, we must make sure that every contact counts.

As a reminder, the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
• Unexplained weight loss
• Jaundice
• Mid-back pain – Where a bra strap would sit and may be eased by leaning forward
• Upper abdominal pain – Which may radiate to the back
• New-onset diabetes (not associated with weight gain)
• Indigestion – Not responding to medication
• Pale and smelly stools (presence of fat in stools) – That doesn’t flush easily.

So what can we all do?

• Make sure the whole pharmacy team completes the NPA-accredited PCA pharmacy e-learning module, which helps empower and share skills needed when speaking to customers who are suffering from or showing symptoms of pancreatic cancer.
• Early referral is a critical measure of survival, so let’s follow up on our chats with patients presenting with symptoms. It can make all the difference.
• Order your PCA Turn it Purple pack and host a Turn it Purple event or day. Let’s advocate and support the ongoing work to access more research funding and also develop improved diagnosis and treatment pathways for patients.

PCA has been advocating the importance of pharmacy in their fight. All community pharmacies always show their purple heart in providing care for their community even in the face of multiple health needs and operational challenges.
Our communities now need them to help lead this fight and stop pancreatic cancer blighting more families. Contact the PCA online or call them today to order your November campaign pack.

Ade Williams is a pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy, Bristol

Ade Williams is a pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy in Bristol