As a female pharmacist, ovarian cancer (OC) is not only a clinically relevant risk to my patients; it is also a sobering personal risk for which there is currently no routine screening. I have become increasingly invested in learning more about my own risks as I age; however, my subconscious belief that I do not face an immediate danger of OC has allowed day-to-day distractions to derail my best efforts to explore this topic further.
Wearing my professional advocacy hat, I have had amazing opportunities to network with other healthcare leaders in my community. Many of these individuals have shared their stories about valuable encounters with their pharmacist and how we, as pharmacists, can leverage our access to the public to an even greater extent when it comes to public health–education initiatives. For example, one community leader in my personal network is president of an OC organization, which she founded after her own OC diagnosis and journey through recovery. She has educated me on both the risks and signs of OC, and I have valued these both as a woman at risk and also as a pharmacist helping patients through a similar spectrum of uncomfortable treatments and fears of the unknown.
This courageous advocate has helped me recognize that pharmacists can play an extremely specific role in helping our female patients tune in to symptoms that may be early indicators of OC. The public may believe that cervical PAP screening covers OC screening, but, in fact, it does not. For this reason, we need to take note when female patients describe symptoms of abdominal or pelvic pain, persistent bloating, feeling full faster than usual when eating, and/or urinary symptoms of either frequency or urgency or both for longer than 2 weeks. We may be the only healthcare provider the individual seeks advice from between physician visits. Because we can recognize these oftentimes subtle symptoms of OC for which patients may seek our guidance while they are exploring OTC remedies, we can refer them to seek prompt medical attention.
Through my interactions with this community leader, I have learned that in order to achieve successful OC outcomes, it is important for patients to strongly advocate for an adequate exam and to request, when possible, appropriate genetic testing. Pharmacists should recognize that these recommendations are even more important when risks increase the likelihood of an OC diagnosis, including advancing age, personal or family history of OC or breast cancer, genetic predisposition, obesity, and history of hormone replacement therapy. And while these risks are not entirely inclusive, considering these factors when hearing your patient’s symptoms may impact the strength of your professional advocacy.
Of course, we must also consider our personal health and wellness in view of these risks. With pharmacists now working even more hours and under considerable stress during the continued COVID pandemic, it is critical that we take time out for our own personal self-checks and proactive wellness initiatives.
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