Almost every community from the largest to the smallest has a drug store. In addition to over-the-counter drugs and prescriptions, they stock a wide range of “needed” items. And usually in the back of the store you will find a pharmacist, a highly trained healthcare professional, waiting to help you.
Your pharmacist fills your prescriptions, we all know that. But they can and want to do so much more. They can give flu shots and others immunizations; provide information on disease prevention, diabetes management, tobacco cessation and medication side effects, plus monitor your blood pressure. Pharmacists can help with the cost of your medication by suggesting generics, steering you to coupons and providing information on pharmacy-assistance programs. Your pharmacist can also have a vital role in your cancer treatment.
Not too long ago most cancer medications were administered at a hospital. Very few cancer drugs were available for pharmacists to dispense to cancer patients. New oral and topical drugs for cancer treatment are being approved on a daily basis and are readily available.
Currently 25 to 35 percent of oncology drugs are obtainable in oral form and cancer medication dispersed by a pharmacist is very quickly becoming the norm, not the exception. The community pharmacists have become part of the cancer patient’s care team.
Pharmacists can help patients understand how the medicine works, ensure that the patient is taking the medicine by putting systems in place and giving the patients checklists to help them remember to take their medication. Pharmacists can help manage side effects and drug interactions.
Some people with cancer may also be referred to a specialty pharmacy. These specialty pharmacies are located at some retail pharmacies but also at cancer centers or in larger metropolitan areas. Some provide services through the mail. Specialty pharmacies provide medicines that require added monitoring or support; may be difficult to deliver or store; or are expensive. Individuals with cancer may visit these pharmacies to pick up their medication or have it administered there. Like all pharmacies and pharmacists the staff at the specialty pharmacies can offer information about the medicine and the condition being treated. They can instruct, counsel and provide support so that the client continues to take their medicine as instructed.
Tips for working with a specialty pharmacies are very similar to working with your local pharmacists. Check out their website for general information and frequently asked questions. Of course, speak with your insurance provider before filling any prescription to be sure of the coverage.
Find out about support and counseling services. Be sure to inform the pharmacy about any side effects. By accurately describing how you are feeling, the pharmacist can help you mange the side effects.
Also, let them know about all of the other medications you are currently taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs plus supplements, because these can interfere with your cancer medication and treatment. Order refills before you need them. If your medication requires any special handling or administering ask for a training session. Also ask about the proper way to handle supplies and to dispose of things like needles and swabs.
Remember, with the important role medications play in the treatment of cancer, your pharmacist has become a vital part of the cancer care team.
• Cancercare.org offers free podcasts, booklets and fact sheet with information on the newest cancer treatments, managing side effects and coping with cancer.
• “The importance of taking your medication correctly and safe storage and disposal of cancer medications” can be found at cancer.net.
The Northeast Regional Cancer Institute encourages you to talk with your healthcare provider about your specific medical conditions and treatments. The information contained in this article is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice. The above information is from webmd.com, the Community Oncology Alliance, Cancer.net, AARP and CancerCare.org. Additional information can be found by visiting cancernepa.org or by calling (800) 424-6724.