General Question

Aster's avatar

What? Can it be fatal for nurses and pharmacists to handle anti-cancer drugs?

Asked by Aster (18756points) December 11th, 2010

I am reading that pharmacists and nurses are increasingly coming down with various forms of cancer from dispensing/handling anti cancer drugs to cancer patients to make them well? What’s wrong with this picture? Is it true?
http://www.healingtalks.com/health/chemotherapy-doctors-nurses-pharmacists-dying-from-handling-chemotherapy-drugs-part-ii/

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34 Answers

HungryGuy's avatar

Handling ANY drug in pill form with your bare hands allows trace amounts to pass though your skin into your blood stream. People who work with drugs daily need to take better precautions, like masks and gloves.

Seaofclouds's avatar

Yes, it can cause problems to handle the chemotherapy and brachytherapy medications/equipment. There are certain ways they must be handled and disposed of after use. Even the bags and tubing used to administer the medication must be disposed of in it’s own separate container. There is a lot that goes into the administration of those medications and it is something that the people handling the medication/equipment should be properly trained to do before getting involved with it. Gloves should be worn at all times when dealing with any medication, but especially those medications. Other protective equipment is necessary as well, depending on the treatment.

Lightlyseared's avatar

It’s not just the drugs themsleves but also the body fluids, secretions and excretions of patients taking them that can be dangerous.

Aster's avatar

@Seaofclouds so you’re saying that precautions should be taken when handling chemo drugs but it’s healthy to inject or swallow those same drugs?

gailcalled's avatar

The article you cite has only vague and anecdotal claims. There are no specific links to the research at the CDC, the newspaper reports, the Danish studies or any doublee-blind studies. Additionally, there is the vague and accusatory language with no substance to it.

For example:

“Cancer patients are unfortunately victims of an incredible fear and confidence game that’s been perfected and has become more increasingly shameless and efficient. In addition to the patient, nurses, doctors and pharmacists get to feel the boomerang. Again its karmic. This cannot even be called a criminal hoax. There is such shared unconsciousness by the medical professional parties involved that it almost appears innocently unconscious, except at the corporate level.

All this works to extinguish the sacred breath of so many helpless, trusting human beings yearning to have their life uplifted or saved, not destroyed.”

I had chemotherapy and watched the extreme caution the nursing staff took while handling the drips. It certainly wasn’t my activity of choice, but I am cancer-free now.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@Aster The drugs serve a purpose. Chemotherapy isn’t something that is taken lightly. It is given because the benefits outweigh the risks. Chemotherapy kills cells. It can kill healthy cells as well as the cancer cells. For patients that are in need of it, the killing of the cancer cells makes it worth it. For someone that does not have cancer, there is no benefit, so it’s just harmful and not helpful. Chemotherapy can kill and alter the healthy person’s cells, causing them to be sick. So yes, in a way, it’s healthy (as in the benefits outweigh the risks) for the cancer patient to receive the treatment, even though the person administering it must use precautions.

Lightlyseared's avatar

@Aster it’s not healthy to inject them, it’s just that not injecting them and dieing of cancer is worse.

Aster's avatar

@gailcalled I am so glad you’re cancer-free !! My best friend was being given chemo , a little got on the nurse’s arm and she screamed, raced to the sink, then returned to my friend to inject the same substance into her vein. She , my friend, died 1½ years afterward after a year+ of terrible side effects and metastases to the spinal cord and brain. I wish the nurses giving chemo would be told they absolutely must wear surgical gloves at all times.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

It’s time for some more critical thinking, apparently.

@Aster the thing to remember here is that “correlation is not causation”. Just because a person contracts cancer after handling anti-cancer drugs does not mean that the drugs caused the cancer. Now, there may be evidence of that; I don’t have data to say that it can’t, doesn’t or won’t happen. But your link doesn’t show that ‘handling drugs causes cancer’. The woman in the specific link just had the incredible bad luck to contract fatal pancreatic cancer, and oh-by-the-way she worked in a pharmacy where they sold those drugs. She could just as well have been a bookkeeper, a stay-at-home housewife or an ironworker. Until you show the data that indicate a causation, that is, that people who handled these drugs contact cancer at an increased rate compared to other, similar people in other industries (which means that you need to conduct experiments or data collection to control for age, heritage (because of genetic links to cancer), area of residence (to control for possible environmental factors), diet and a whole raft of other potential co-factors. This poor woman just lost a lottery.

It’s a tragedy for the woman’s family and friends, but it’s not enough to damn an entire industry.

JilltheTooth's avatar

One of my oncologists described chemo and radiation as “hoping the malignancy dies before the host, then bringing the host back”. It’s all drastic, but like @gailcalled, I’ve been there, done that, got the tee-shirt and I’m still walking around 11 years later. The staff at the unit where I was treated were very careful about handling any and all meds, because they are seriously toxic. I’m grateful to all those lovely people willing to take the risks with their own health for mine.

nikipedia's avatar

@Aster, just to be clear, are you trying to say that chemotherapy drugs fail to treat cancer, and instead cause cancer?

Aster's avatar

” I’m grateful to all those lovely people willing to take the risks with their own health for mine.” That would be the major sacrifice. To give your life to save the life of strangers.
I suspect that , until now. the people taking the risks were not in the least aware that working in a chemo ward or a pharmacy might cause them to get cancer . But maybe like the poster said, you probably cannot get cancer from handling the pills or injecting the liquid. Or can you?

gailcalled's avatar

When I was getting my infusions (not ever injections into the vein, but a heavily diluted drip), one of the chemicals was suspended in saline tinted with red dye. THat was in order to not have any leaks onto the skin of the hand where the port was. The nurse wore gloves and watched carefully because the chemo would, indeed, sting.

I used to pee pink urine for the next twenty-four hours. It was similar to flushing orange dye down the toilet in a septic system on an island. You would flush the toilet and run to the water’s edge to make sure the orange dye did not show up in the lake.

I do not believe that any of the dozens of medical and staff member at my Oncology center, where chemo is admistered, plan to become martyrs to cancer.

Aster's avatar

@nikipedia I have believed for years that yes, chemo drugs cause cancer and, in some cases, put the patient into remission. I feel worse about xrays. I believe those can cause cancer while sometimes helping to make a diagnosis. At great cost.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@Aster : When I said “risking their health…” I was not referring in any way to your assumption that they are in imminent danger of dying, in order to help me. Most medical practitioners run risks of getting infections and such by the very nature of their work. Gloves break, vials break, bodily fluids can be transferred in any number of ways. I was simply appreciating that their work can carry some risk factors. I also appreciate firefighters and cops.

Seaofclouds's avatar

@Aster I was working on an oncology unit years ago and there were precautions in place then. My aunt received chemotherapy about 15 years ago and they used the same precautions I was taught when I was working in that area (only slightly updated as the equipment and medication changed over the years). It’s been known for some time how caustic chemotherapy agents can be and how they need to be handled. It’s not a new realization.

nikipedia's avatar

@Aster: Is there anything that would convince you that chemo drugs treat cancer rather than causing it?

Aster's avatar

Here, the anti-cancer drugs are labeled as more dangerous than that “they sting.” The drugs are called “carninogenic.” Which seems to say the anti cancer drugs can cause cancer:
“But even a lower level of exposure to cytotoxic drugs is still unacceptable to most experts. “Some would argue that there is no safe limit for exposure to a known carcinogen,” Dr. Connor, Research Biologist, Division of Applied Research and Technology, stated in an e-mail message. “All groups recommend reducing exposure to these drugs as much as possible.”
Ms. Power said in a separate e-mail message that “there is no ‘safe’ level of exposure to known carcinogens; what is ‘safe’ for one person may be ‘unsafe’ for another.”
In an editorial in AJHP that accompanied the research report, Ms. Power also pointed out that it was not just the vials that pose a safety danger, but also the protective carton and package insert that become contaminated by touching the vials. “All potentially contaminated materials must be handled with appropriate personal protection and disposed of as contaminated hazardous waste,” she stated in the editorial (2005;62:471–474).
Her prescription for reducing the risk from contamination was to make it clear to manufacturers that they must supply clean vials. “The only way that this is going to happen is for us at the bottom of the food chain to make a lot of noise,” she said.”

gailcalled's avatar

Here is part of the Wikipedia article about Dr. Max Gerson, (who BTW died in 1959)

Many attempts were made to prove that his methods had some valitidy.

To wit:

Evidence
Gerson’s therapy has not been independently tested or subjected to randomized controlled trials, and thus is illegal to market in the United States. The Gerson Institute claims that Gerson’s observational studies and case reports are anecdotal evidence of the efficacy of the treatment.

In his book, Gerson cites the “Results of 50 Cases”; however, the U.S. National Cancer Institute reviewed these 50 cases and was unable to find any evidence that Gerson’s claims were accurate.

Gerson Institute staff published a case series in the alternative medical literature; however, the series suffered from significant methodological flaws, and no independent entity has been able to reproduce the Gerson Institute’s claims.

And no one, here or anywhere else, is advocating skipping scrupulous packaging, handling and administration of chemo drugs.

gailcalled's avatar

@Aster: I hope that neither you nor any of your friends or family find yourselves in a position to have to make a choice about cancer treatment.

Aster's avatar

MSNBC : Cancer drugs may be killing healthcare workers:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38114586/ns/health-cancer/

Aster's avatar

@gailcalled ”@Aster: I hope that neither you nor any of your friends or family find yourselves in a position to have to make a choice about cancer treatment.” I am sure they will. I will present them with what I’ve learned, what has happened to previous friends of mine and then the decision of how to treat their illness will be up to them.

CaptainHarley's avatar

When it became obvious that the cancer I have had metastasized, I was offered two methods of treatment: chemotherepy or radiation therepy. I unhesitatingly chose radiation. I had asked which of the therepies caused the least impact on lifestyle maintenance and the answer was radiation. I had seen what chemo does to most people. It’s very debilitating and sickness-inducing.

My radiation therepy had only one side-effect… since the cancer had settled in my lumbar spine, there was some disruption of feeling in my legs which amounted to a “pins and needles” sensation for a few days. That was all. : )

deliasdancemom's avatar

Not just cancer drugs, propecia (a drug for male pattern baldness) can cause sterility in women if handled

deliasdancemom's avatar

As a pharmacist/tech you should never handle any pill with your bare hands, not only for your safety but for your patients, imagine if you had been eating peanuts or something then touched the medication of a highly allergic patient with your hands, cross contaminating it with the oils, this could send your patient into a deadly allergic reaction….this is why we have trays and spatulas for counting out drugs so our hands never come in contact with out patients medications

JilltheTooth's avatar

@Aster : I’m curious, you have a lot to say against accepted and effective (at least in the case of myself and many I know personally) treatments, yet you offer no alternatives. Got any?

gailcalled's avatar

I should add that before the biopsy showed that the cancer had spread from the breast to two axillary nodes, I had a choice. Mastectomy or chemo and radiation. Due to nodes I would then have had to have either the mastectomy and radiation, or a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation. I was grateful to have choice B.

I had more lasting side effects from the radiation than the chemo; tender esophagus and other mucus membranes and more chances of heartburn.

The radiation was staged precisely. I have six adorable little tattoos around my left breast, even though they do look more like having been stabbed with a ballpoint pen.

JilltheTooth's avatar

@gailcalled: Gee, they just used a Sharpie on me…

gorillapaws's avatar

@Aster what is it about double-blinded, reproducible, peer-reviewed, large studies that you dislike so much? You seem to be very quick to ignore the results of these, but then quick to latch onto methodologies from people with very little evidence at all to substantiate their claims. Assuming that chemo causes cancer because not everyone survives is like saying CPR causes death because it doesn’t resuscitate everyone every time. When the alternative is death, it can be worth it to take a therapy that makes you sicker, and I can guarantee that your friend would not have survived had she not had treatment. People don’t just spontaneously recover from cancer.

Nobody likes radiation or chemo (including doctors), but it’s the most effective treatment that exists. If there were an alternative that was more effective then doctors would be breaking down the doors to try to get access to it. No doctor likes to see one of their patients die, period. Do you really believe they’d subject them to x-rays if it wasn’t safe?

Lightlyseared's avatar

For every decision you make there are both potential benefits and costs. Every medicine from a simple aspirin to chemotherapy has risks. You have to decide if the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks. The same with surgery or for that matter crossing the road or riding your bike to work.

Everyone has different beliefs about risk and that’s OK. Part of a doctors job involves discussing the risks with patients and helping them decide if they should go ahead with a particular treatment or not. Now of course doctors tend to be very pro treatment but that does not mean they don’t understand that someone doesn’t want to take the risk and won’t support them if that’s the decision they make.

Taciturnu's avatar

Just wanted to chime in that yes, cancer treating drugs can, in fact, cause cancer. There’s a serious waiver you need to sign before receiving treatments and it is a choice only the patient can make. That being said, there’s a million drugs you shouldn’t handle with bare hands, regardless of what form they are in. Being a healthcare worker, I can say you are taught not to touch any medications, even a Tylenol, on the basis if keeping it sanitary for your patient. (At least here in MA.) If you follow that, you will never come in contact with any drugs, whether harmful to the dispenser or not.

deliasdancemom's avatar

Also to be noted that women who are intimatly involved with men undergoing cancer treatment are at a significantly higher risk for developing cancer in the reproductive organs if proper measures are not taken

gailcalled's avatar

@deliasdancemom: Could you please both clarify and document your statement?^^ Thanks.

deliasdancemom's avatar

Someone having treatment told me this, though it was several years ago

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