The Role of the Community Pharmacist in Breast Cancer Services

Lydia Tutt, University of Nottingham

As treatments improve and cancer is discovered earlier, people are living longer with breast cancer. People living with breast cancer, or survivors as they are known, often need to take medicines for many years and report that they want more support after returning home from hospital. The increased demand for breast cancer survivors to be cared for by general practitioners (GP) and other community-based professionals has allowed community pharmacy to take on a larger role in providing support.  

This study aims to investigate the needs of breast cancer survivors in the community and explore opportunities for pharmacists to improve their care. Study findings should support the development of a valuable new pharmacy-based service. 

The first part of the research has already been conducted. It used data from England’s GP records to explore the characteristics of breast cancer survivors and the medicines they take for their breast cancer, in order to understand their treatments and what support they may need when taking medicines over long tim- periods. The findings showed that many women did not take their breast cancer medicines for as long as the national guidelines recommend, and a lot of people changed between breast cancer medicines. This suggests that many of the women have problems with the medicines; an issue that pharmacists are well trained to help with.  

In the next part of the research, focus groups will be conducted with survivors, community pharmacists and stakeholders (i.e. people with a potential interest in developing this type of service; such as representatives from local pharmacy groups, pharmacy businesses and cancer charities). Survivors will include women (aged over 18) treated for breast cancer within primary care, with at least two years since they completed initial treatmentAfter completing a short survey about themselves and their treatment, the focus groups will explore their experiences and views of the breast cancer care received in the community. The group will discuss how community pharmacists might improve care for women living with and after breast cancer. 

A web-based pharmacist focus group will then discuss the findings; exploring pharmacist attitudes and the feasibility of introducing a pharmacy-led service to address the issues raised by survivors. It will be held online using Adobe Connect, which will enable pharmacists from all around the country to participate in the discussion. 

Finally, a stakeholder meeting (comprising of a presentation of research findings, followed by a discussion) will collect stakeholder perspectives of such a service, and discuss factors to consider when developing the idea further. (Telephone interviews will be held for stakeholders unable to attend.) Stakeholders will include representatives from cancer charities and local pharmacy groups, and well as pharmacy owners. 

Through establishing the key requirement of an effective and feasible pharmacy service, these findings could be vital in shaping the future of the pharmacy profession and improving the lives of those living with and after breast cancer. Findings of the study will be shared in relevant journals and at conferences as well as written up into a thesis. 

This project ran from October 2017 to July 2018. The final report is available here.