Pregnant nurses who handle cancer drugs may be putting their health and that of their unborn child at risk. The results of a study that appeared in the American Journal of Nursing conclude that far too many nurses—both pregnant and not—do not take the proper precautions to protect themselves while handling antineoplastic drugs.
Antineoplastic drugs are medications sometimes referred to as anti-cancer, chemotherapy, chemo, cytotoxic, or hazardous drugs. These drugs can come in pill form and also as an injectable liquid medicine. The drugs also have other applications outside of oncology.
Forty-thousand nurses in the U.S. and Canada, who administer these drugs to patients, took part in the self-reporting study to determine how these healthcare providers are taking care of themselves. The study involved a questionnaire in which nurses reported on their safety practices while working with antineoplastic drugs.
Nurses at Risk
The study suggests that too many nurses are not using gloves and gowns despite serious risks. This personal protective equipment is provided by healthcare employers specifically to be used by personnel who handle dangerous substances. It is recommended, in fact, that pregnant employees layer two pairs of gloves for protection in addition to the gowns.
Approximately two-fifths of respondents reported handling antineoplastic drugs without using a protective gown (38 percent of pregnant nurses and 42 percent of non-pregnant nurses). Half of pregnant nurses reported administering these toxic treatments without a gown during the first 20 weeks of their pregnancy; ten percent did not wear gloves during the same early-pregnancy period.
These revelations suggest that hospitals and care facilities should review the safety protocol for those handling these dangerous drugs.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has established guidelines for handling antineoplastic drugs and other hazardous materials. The CDC recommends nurses and other professionals who handle these drugs to take precautions and to bring to the potential danger to the attention of their co-workers, and especially to their employers, who are encouraged to provide employee training on the subject.
What Makes These Drugs So Dangerous?
Many antineoplastic drugs are human carcinogens. Exposure to such substances is associated with miscarriages and birth defects. Patients who have taken antineoplastic drugs have an increased risk of infertility. Pregnant women who use the drugs to treat their cancers have an increased risk of miscarriage or of their child being born with a birth defect.
The purpose of these medications for cancer treatment is to discourage reproduction of cancer cells. This function may interfere with healthy cell formations in the womb. Scientists are not certain of this link, but healthcare workers are encouraged to avoid unnecessary exposure as a precaution. It is unknown what amount of exposure is safe.
There are findings that link cases of miscarriage and birth defects to handling these chemicals, so it is best to minimize the potential risk. This is true for pregnant women and non-pregnant workers alike. The study’s conclusion recommends that healthcare employees and workers make an effort to raise awareness about the dangers of exposure to antineoplastic drugs. Further, the study team recommends employers to take steps to encourage the use of protective equipment with training, access to PPE and sufficient time to safely perform work tasks that involve these dangerous substances.
Columbia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. Represent Workers Exposed to Harmful Substances
Nurses who have suffered harm due to workplace exposure to toxic substances such as antineoplastic drugs are urged to contact a Columbia Workers’ Compensation lawyer at Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. as soon as possible. Contact us online or call 803-929-3600 or 866-881-8623 today to arrange a free consultation to discuss your legal options.
We have six office locations to serve healthcare workers across South Carolina, including those in Columbia, Aiken, Camden, Sumter, Orangeburg, Greenville, Florence, Beaufort, Irmo, Spartanburg, Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island, West Columbia, Rock Hill, Charleston, Lexington, Winnsboro, Summerville, and throughout the areas of Lexington County, Richland County, Sumter County, Charleston County, Aiken County, Florence County, Lancaster County, York County, Spartanburg County, Orangeburg County, Kershaw County, and Newberry County.