The Evolving Role of the Pharmacist in Oncology Care

The role of the pharmacist in the care of patients with cancer is evolving. Pharmacists can help optimize treatment outcomes for each patient through use of patient-specific and disease-specific strategies.

In her presentation, “Clinical Issues in Oncology Management,” Rowena N. Schwartz, PharmD, BCOP, senior director of Clinical Content Services at McKesson Specialty Health, outlined ways in which healthcare providers can help optimize the care of oncology patients. She also noted special considerations for the treatment of patients with breast cancer, cancer treatment—induced bone loss, and myeloma.

A major challenge associated with cancer drug therapies is accounting for and managing the treatment of comorbidities. The treatment of one condition can affect the therapy for another, effectively changing the clinical situation, Dr Schwartz explained. In order to manage drug-drug interactions and drug-food interactions, oncology pharmacists should screen patients for contraindications at each visit, taking into consideration the potential for unrecognized or under-reported drug interactions. Patients should also be educated about potential conflicts in treatment regimens.

In the case of oral oncolytics, pharmacists can be instrumental in the management of dose modifications and can help identify treatment-related dose toxicities in their patients. In addition, pharmacists in the oncology setting can play an important role in helping patients gain access to treatments and influencing them to remain adherent.

Cancer survivorship can be defined as the time of diagnosis through the balance of the patient’s life, as the period following primary treatment, or simply as the existence of an individual who has been diagnosed with cancer and is still living. Despite the incongruity of definitions, cancer survivorship is a distinct phase of cancer care for which “awareness and improvement in quality is needed,” according to Dr Schwartz. Providers should be aware that survivors may experience diminished quality of life as a result of physiological sequelae, psychological distress, and social life disruption.