Pharmacists and the War on Cancer

Pharmacy TimesAugust 2009
Volume 75
Issue 8

Mike Hennessy

Our special focus in this issue is oncology, a medical specialty that touches the lives of millions of Americans each year. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that 562,340 cancer deaths are expected to occur by the end of this year—more than the American casualties in World War II. With the war on cancer in the limelight for more than a decade now, ACS has developed ambitious nationwide objectives with the goal of preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer. The society has targeted 2015 as its D-Day to meet specific goals, including a 50% reduction in mortality rates and a 25% reduction in cancer incidence rates.

Cancer comes in many forms, but it is affected by lifestyle choices as well as heredity. Cancer screenings are critical for early detection, and thus they are a key focus of ACS awareness efforts. As health care providers work together to improve education and awareness of these issues, the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association also have joined forces with the ACS to combat a host of related chronic diseases all across the United States.

In our feature, Disturbing Déjà vu: When Cancer Comes Back, Guido R. Zanni, PhD, tells us that 1 of every 6 to 7 cancer patients will develop a new malignancy in his or her lifetime, which represents a risk 14% greater than that of the general population. In fact, treating the first cancer can actually allow the patient to live long enough to get a second cancer, which Dr. Zanni rightly calls “troublesome and ironic.” Where do these cancers come from? Just like the rest of the American population, cancer survivors may make poor lifestyle choices despite their prior treatments. Two lifestyle choices in particular—smoking and alcohol consumption—come into play and account for about 35% of second primary cancers in cancer survivors.

What should the pharmacist do? Pharmacists can take action on a daily basis as they counsel these high-risk patients, who may be among the most addicted in these groups. The advice parallels that for the general population and includes counseling to reduce or eliminate tobacco and alcohol intake, increase physical activity, avoid known carcinogens, and comply with all suggested cancer screenings.

Keeping up with the latest research and products will also aid the pharmacist in this ongoing challenge. See our Conference Highlights for Pharmacists from the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in this issue, as well as our Counseling Focus, Oral Chemotherapy: Patient Advantages and Challenges.

The worthy goals of the ACS, set down to combat the wide range of cancers we still see today, include nutritional and physical activity guidelines, sun protection issues, alcohol and tobacco use guidelines, health education standards, early detection screenings, and more—all just part of the daily lexicon of the pharmacist.

Thank you for reading.

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Mike Hennessy

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