A study led by researchers from the University of Sunderland and Newcastle University will explore the role community pharmacists could play in the early identification and referral of patients with suspected head and neck cancers (HNC).
It is supported by funding from the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North East and North Cumbria (NENC) Open Funding Competition for 2020, and will begin in Spring 2021.
The research has the potential to improve the rates of early formal cancer assessment, diagnosis and treatment, and will explore whether community pharmacies could offer a pathway for people with HNC symptoms to seek further medical help and advice.
The work will be led by Dr Andrew Sturrock, University of Sunderland, and Dr Susan Bissett, Newcastle University, and involves collaboration between pharmacy, dentistry and medicine academics, HNC clinicians and patients.
Head and neck cancer is the eighth most common cancer in the UK, and the North East has the highest incidence and mortality rates from the cancer, in areas of high deprivation.
Most of these cancers are in the mouth and throat and could potentially be identified early by a dentist, but recent research found that patients frequently present late with advanced stages of the disease having not seen their dentist in the two years prior to diagnosis, with uncertainty over costs and dental anxiety cited as the main reasons.
This research will explore the role that community pharmacists could play alongside GPs and dentists in spotting early signs of head and neck cancer – because of the accessible nature of pharmacies and the key role they play in communities.