Cancer-screening measures performed in a pharmacy may provide an opportunity to educate patients about the health risks of asbestos exposure.
Studies have shown that asbestos exposure causes an estimated 255,000 deaths annually. Of these numbers, approximately 233,000 deaths involved work-related exposures. Due to the high incidence of asbestos exposure that exists today, affected individuals may require counseling and treatment to help manage their condition and symptoms. Pharmacists can play a role in helping these individuals.
For example, exposure to asbestos can lead to various health risks such as mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that affects lung and abdominal tissue. The Mesothelioma Group website provides helpful information about the stages of mesothelioma, prevention and treatment options for managing symptoms of the disease.
Treatment for such diseases and their symptoms often involves a multidisciplinary approach, including surgery to remove cancerous tissue. But the main treatments for cancer are usually related to medication, with oncology pharmacists playing a vital role in supporting the patient during their treatment.
In the care of patients with cancer following asbestos exposure, oncology pharmacists are involved in their assessment, diagnosis, treatment, symptom management, and medication management. Pharmacists’ area of expertise allows them to become an intermediary between patients and doctors, helping patients to understand the details of drug therapy and its mechanism of action.
For this reason, it may also be beneficial to provide training to pharmacists to help them gain advanced competence in assisting patients in the management of asbestos-related illness. In addition, advances in therapies, including positive outcomes in immunotherapy, require pharmacists to bridge the skills gap to best tailor the drug to a patient’s specific condition.
In addition to these advances, the pharmacist’s scope has changed significantly, shifting toward patient care and away from dispensing activities. This situation puts pharmacists in a prime position to integrate cancer-screening initiatives into their practice. Regulating pharmacy technicians could also strengthen the viability of community pharmacists by becoming more involved in cancer-screening efforts.
Pharmacies are often visited by patients seeking advice from a pharmacist about the signs and symptoms of cancer. One study noted that approximately 1% to 25% of patients who consulted a pharmacist were seeking treatment guidance for their cancer symptoms.
As the most accessible health care professionals, pharmacists can educate patients on strategies that may help reduce asbestos exposure and the incidence of specific cancers. For this reason, cancer-screening measures performed in a pharmacy provide an opportunity to educate patients about asbestos exposure.
A systematic literature review analyzing the role of pharmacists in early cancer detection noted that there is significant potential for community pharmacies to provide cancer education and screening interventions. The findings suggest that screening in community pharmacies may help identify people exposed to asbestos or individuals at high risk of developing cancer. Health screening in community pharmacies can be an effective tool to improve participation in screening programmes.
Health Risks of Asbestos Exposure
Asbestos can be present in the air, water, and soil, often at low levels, so anyone can be exposed to asbestos at any point during their lives. However, most people do not become ill immediately from such low-level exposure. Instead, people who become ill are often exposed to asbestos. These high-risk individuals often work directly with the material.
Breathing in asbestos can cause tiny asbestos fibers to become trapped in the lungs and irritate lung tissue, potentially causing the following diseases:
- mica: Inhalation of asbestos fibers causes it to form a scar in the lungs. When the lungs are damaged, oxygen and carbon dioxide cannot pass through these organs easily, which makes breathing difficult. Asbestosis most often occurs in people who are exposed to high amounts of asbestos over a long period of time. Symptoms usually appear after several years.
- pulmonary disease: This is a non-cancerous lung condition that leads to changes in the pleura (the tissue surrounding the chest cavity and lungs). The disease can cause thickening of the membrane in individual areas (pleural plaques) or throughout (diffuse pleural thickening); Fluid can also build up around the lungs (pleural effusion). Although not everyone with pleurisy will have difficulty breathing, some may have reduced lung function.
- lung cancerLung cancer is a malignant tumor that attacks the airways of the lungs and blocks them. Asbestos exposure and tobacco smoking both greatly increase your chances of developing lung cancer.
- mesotheliomaPleura: A rare cancer of the pleura, it can also affect the tissue lining, the abdominal cavity (peritoneum), or other internal organs. Symptoms of mesothelioma may not appear until 30 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos.
In addition to lung cancer and mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos can also cause cancer of the ovaries and larynx. The CDC states that exposure to asbestos can also lead to cancer of the pharynx (throat), colorectum (colon and rectum), and stomach.
- Furuya S, Chimed-Ochir O, Takahashi K, David A, Takala J. global asbestos disaster, Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2018 May 16; 15(5): 1000. DOI: 10.3390/ijrf15051000.
- Hopa. The role of the hematology/oncology pharmacist. Hopa website. Accessed November 22, 2022. https://www.hoparx.org/images/hopa/advocacy/Access-to-pharmacists-care/HOPA_About_Hem_Onc_Pharmacist_Issue_Brief_FINAL.pdf
- Havlicek AJ, Mansell H. The role of the community pharmacist in cancer screening and prevention. Can Pharm J (Ott). 2016;149(5):274-282. doe:10.1177/1715163516660574
- Lum BL, McWaters DS, Merzner MA. Cancer Detection and the Community Pharmacist. m pharm, 1989; NS29(7):54-9. doi:10.1016/s0160-3450(15)31746-3
- Lindsay L, Husband A, Nazar H, Todd A. Promoting early detection of cancer: a systematic review of community pharmacy-based education and screening interventions. cancer epidemic, 2015;39(5):673-81. doi:10.1016/j.canape.2015.07.011
- NCI. Asbestos exposure and cancer risk. NCI website. Accessed November 22, 2022. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/asbestos/asbestos-fact-sheet
- ATSDR. Health effects of asbestos. ATSDR website. Accessed November 22, 2022.https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/asbestos/health_effects_asbestos.html