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Role for pharmacy in improving uptake of bowel cancer screening

Pharmacists could help patients to access bowel cancer screening services, said a leading clinical psychologist at a cancer prevention seminar hosted by UCL School of Pharmacy. The seminar was held at the Royal Society yesterday (9 January 2014) ahead of last night’s annual School of Pharmacy New Year lecture. 

Jane Wardle, professor of clinical psychology at UCL institute of epidemiology and health, described how pharmacists could facilitate conversations and direct patients to screening services for colon cancer. She described such services in the UK as the best in the world. Patients can have either a faecal occult blood test or a flexible sigmoidoscopy, a procedure being piloted in six centres.

In her presentation on the role of cancer awareness in harm reduction and health improvement, Professor Wardle said that flexible sigmoidoscopy, for patients aged between 55 and 60 years, can reduce the incidence of cancer by a third. It involves investigating the bowel for polyps, a sign of early cancer, and removing them.

However, in the centres where this has been introduced, it currently only has a 50 per cent uptake rate, she explained. She also highlighted different uptake rates between socioeconomic groups, which she described as a big health inequality issue. To address this, she suggested that healthcare professionals could help “lead people by the hand” to encourage them to access services.

Speaking to PJ Online after her presentation, Professor Wardle added that community pharmacists could help by having discussions with patients to raise awareness.

Access to new cancer treatments

Access to new treatments for cancer was also a hot topic at the seminar.

Paul Catchpole, director of value and access at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, discussed his concerns about the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s plan to introduce value assessments in late 2014.

The new value assessments will take into account the wider societal benefit of a medicine, which he suggested could unfairly disadvantage the elderly. NICE is due to publish its approach, for consultation, in the next few weeks.

Dr Catchpole also addressed the cancer drugs fund (CDF), which he said may not be able to support all new medicines in the pipeline for 2014, adding: “Something to look at in 2014 is how NHS England will deal with this.” He suggested that questions need to be asked about “how can we reform the approach to [medicines approval] so that when the CDF ends we can still have access to new medicines”.

Speakers at the seminar also discussed the role of genetic screening in the management of cancer. Anne Bowcock, chair in cancer genomics at Imperial College London, said that if all women with a high genetic risk of breast cancer could be identified this would be a big advantage in managing the disease.

In the future, she believes all people will have their genetic risk of disease assessed at birth. However, she stressed that there are many ethical implications that need to be explored before this approach could be advocated.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11132686

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