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How can we protect cancer nurses from exposure to hazardous drugs?

25 February 2021
Volume 30 · Issue 4


Freelance medical writer Christine Clark ( reports on an online meeting held in November 2020 on protecting nursing working in oncology from exposure to hazardous drugs

Meeting Chairman Mark Foulkes (President Elect, UK Oncology Nursing Society, and Consultant and Lead Cancer Nurse, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust) said that one of the longest-running debates in cancer nursing and systemic anticancer treatment (SACT) delivery is the use of closed systems and whether they improve staff safety significantly or whether personal protective equipment (PPE) alone could achieve the same result.

Alison Simons and Samantha Toland (Senior Lecturers at Birmingham City University) have a special interest in SACT safety and the protection of nurses administering chemotherapy.

Reviewing the risks, Ms Simons said that many of the agents used for SACT are hazardous drugs. They are carcinogenic, teratogenic and mutagenic.

‘The drugs cannot distinguish between a patient who is receiving them for treatment and the health professional who is handling them, so there are potential risks for all of us’, said Ms Simons.

There are risks for staff at every point along the drug pathway, from reconstitution and preparation right through to disposal of waste and spillage. The administration step is of particular interest to nurses. Nurses can be exposed to hazardous drugs through inhalation of drug vapours, ingestion from contaminated cups or snacks on wards and by cutaneous absorption from drug splashes.

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