“The best treatment for cancer is prevention.”
Eighty-five percent of chemotherapy patients receive infusions in special oncology units and are then sent home. If proper precautions are not taken, these drugs are highly likely to contaminate their home environment.
Illness may not be detected for months or years and include serious health problems, including cancer and birth defects.
Pregnant women, babies and children are particularly vulnerable to the danger of secondhand chemotherapy due to the DNA-damaging effect of cytotoxic drugs on rapidly dividing cells.
In Safe Management of Wastes from Health Care Activities, The World Health Organization advises health care professionals to educate patients on the risks of exposure to cytotoxic drugs.
However, many patients do not receive this information or the warnings are not in simple to understand language.
The unpleasant facts of exposure to chemotherapy drugs are thus:
- Certain problem chemotherapy drugs are excreted from the patient’s body at high concentrations for a specific amount of time (from 1 to 9 days).
- Even ultra-low exposure of these drugs can cause serious injuries and illness, including cancer and birth defects.
- These drugs are excreted mainly through urine, however the drugs are also found in vomit, feces, saliva and sweat.
Even hospitals struggle with cytotoxic safety.
Hospitals and health care facilities that work with patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment go to great lengths to protect employees, including pharmacists, nurses and cleaning staff, from the risk of exposure to cytotoxic drugs.
Even after rigorous safety protocol and control measures are in place, trace amounts of cytotoxic drugs have been found.
Health care safety procedures include, but are not limited to:
- Information and training
- Designated handling areas
- Personal protective equipment
- Hygiene practices
- Procedures for safe removal of contaminated waste
- Decontamination procedures
How to keep your family safe.
Family members and caregivers must understand that even ultra-low levels of exposure to cytotoxic drugs can cause serious, irreversible health problems. This includes trace amounts that may be left on door knobs, light switches, telephones, and keyboards.
The patient, family members and caregivers must follow careful procedures during the “danger period” after each infusion.
Read an The American Cancer Society’s “Safety Precautions” for simple safety measures you can take to protect your family.