Optimizing drug therapy for patients with cancer

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Did you know that 1 in 2 Canadians are diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives and that 1 in 4 Canadians die from Cancer?  So unfortunately, either we or someone we know and care about will be faced with the diagnosis of cancer.  Medication therapy for cancer, although life-saving in some circumstances, can have significant side effects and drug interactions, to the extent that medication errors can lead to devastating outcomes for patients.

Pharmacists through their medication expertise can identify and resolve drug therapy problems, thus improving the intended outcomes with drug therapy, while minimizing side effects and drug interactions.  At BC Cancer in Vancouver, pharmacists identify and resolve more than 20,000 medication-related problems every year.  They do this by tapping into their in depth clinical knowledge about drug therapy, while asking such questions as:

  • Are the right types of medications being used for the diseases that the patient is experiencing or may be at risk for?
  • Are medications prescribed at the right doses, routes, frequencies, and durations?
  • Are there any potential or actual drug interactions between the prescribed cancer medications and other medications and/or natural health products the patient is taking?
  • Can the patient’s medication therapy be simplified by discontinuing the medications that are no longer needed?
  • Is there anything the patient could do to minimize the risk of experiencing medication-related side effects or complications?
  • When should the patient contact the healthcare team to share potential concerns about cancer treatment?
  • Are their certain tools and resources to help patients learn more about their cancer and its treatment, and assist them with complying with their prescribed medication therapy?

Dedicated pharmacists improve patient safety

Without question, there are numerous health benefits to patients for having their medications reviewed by a pharmacist in the cancer setting and otherwise.  Wouldn’t it be great if every patient in the healthcare system could have access to a pharmacist for the purpose of a comprehensive medication review?  This would have huge cost-saving implications, in addition to known health benefits.

In addition to clinical interventions, pharmacists at BC Cancer are integral members of the healthcare team, who contribute to the development of cancer treatment protocols, pre-printed order forms, patient information handouts, drug information requests, research initiatives, as well as many other patient-focused activities.  An area of research that has created quite a lot of interest at BC Cancer is its Personalized Oncogenomics Program (POG), which is a collaborative clinical research initiative that evaluates the impact of genomic sequencing on treatment planning for BC patients with advanced cancers.  By understanding the genomic changes that contribute to cancer and its behaviour, cancer treatment can be more targeted to potentially achieve better results for patients.  Through innovative research and multidisciplinary expertise and teamwork, it is hoped that patients with cancer may achieve improved health outcomes and prolonged survival from their treatments.

This article was submitted by Shirin Abadi, BC Cancer.