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Pharmacists should expect rise in stomach cancer queries

The Be Clear On Cancer campaign aims to raise awareness of regular heartburn as a symptom of oesophageal and stomach cancer, says Public Health England

Pharmacists should brace themselves for a rise in queries about stomach cancer in the wake of a new campaign, Public Health England (PHE) has said.

Only half of patients would visit their GP if they experienced regular heartburn despite it being a symptom of cancer, according to the results of a PHE survey published to coincide with the launch of its annual Be Clear On Cancer campaign on Monday (January 26).

The four-week campaign, aimed at people aged over 50, would use radio and TV adverts as well as events in shopping centres to raise awareness that patients should tell their GP if they experienced heartburn on most days for three or more weeks, PHE said. The survey revealed that 59 per cent of respondents did not know regular heartburn was a symptom of oesophago-gastric (OG) cancer and only 55 per cent would consult their GP about it, PHE said.

Pharmacists should be aware of the campaign and prepare for more people to seek advice from them about OG cancer symptoms, the health body said.

The campaign would also highlight that a difficulty swallowing food was a symptom of OG cancer, PHE said. Other symptoms included unexplained weight loss and persistent pains in the upper abdomen, it added.

Royal Pharmaceutical Society president Ash Soni said pharmacists were in an ideal position to start conversations with patients who sought advice about heartburn and encourage them to see their GP if the symptoms persisted.

“Individuals with oesophageal or stomach cancer often self-medicate during the early stages of the disease because they do not recognise their symptoms and have not yet sought advice from a health professional,” said Mr Soni.

Early diagnosis

OG cancer killed an average of 28 people in England each day, said PHE, which stressed that early diagnosis could ensure treatment was more successful. Sixty-seven per cent of people diagnosed at a very early stage survived for at least five years compared to just 3 per cent of those diagnosed at a late stage, it added.

NHS England’s national clinical director Sean Duffy said early diagnosis was a “key focus” for the NHS and would form part of its five-year strategy for cancer, which was being developed by an independent taskforce.
Pharmacists can order campaign materials such as leaflets, posters and symptom cards for free by calling the Health and Social Care Publications order line on 03001 231 002.

What else could pharmacists do to raise awareness of cancer symptoms? 

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