Chemotherapy is one of the most successful forms of cancer treatment available, but it’s frequently thought of as deadly and dangerous because of its hazardous chemical properties and potential for severe side effects in patients. What’s often left out of the chemotherapy conversation is the danger it poses to healthcare workers handling the hazardous medications. In two new articles published in the Oncology Nursing Forum, Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) member AnnMarie Walton, PhD, MPH, RN, OCN®, CHES, assistant professor in the School of Nursing at Duke University in Durham, NC, helped healthcare professionals understand the risks and needs for proper safe handling for chemotherapy. 

The article “Surface Contamination With Antineoplastic Drugs on Two Inpatient Oncology Units,” set to publish in May 2020, outlines the levels of contamination found in rooms in units where patients receive chemotherapy and how often nurses were adhering to personal protective equipment recommendations.  

“In our upcoming article for May 2020, we reported levels and locations of surface contamination on two inpatient oncology units. We tested not only areas where the antineoplastic drugs were administered but also areas where staff spend time like breakrooms, bathrooms, and locker rooms,” Walton said. “Of concern, we found contamination in both types of locations. It reminds us that despite efforts to minimize surface contamination, it persists, and that all healthcare workers are at risk for exposure, not just those who administer the drugs.” 

Walton’s first article, “Nursing Assistants’ Use of Personal Protective Equipment Regarding Contact With Excreta Contaminated With Antineoplastic Drugs,” published in November 2019, outlined the use of personal protective equipment among nursing assistants and observed the potential for exposure when handling patient waste.  

“In our earlier article from November 2019, we focused on the activities nursing assistants perform and the personal protective equipment they use when coming into contact with antineoplastic drug contaminated excreta,” Walton said. “They underused double gloves, gowns, and masks and did not always wash with soap and water after removing their gloves. That study included observation and interviews, and we were able to begin to understand several issues for nursing assistants, including lack of standardized education and training and not knowing who is on antineoplastic drug precautions.” 

Healthcare professionals exposed to hazardous drugs like chemotherapy can experience acute issues such as skin rashes, nausea, vomiting, and hair loss. Reproductive problems are also associated with exposure, including spontaneous abortion and other adverse reproductive outcomes. Each day, nurses and healthcare providers adhere to strict safety guidelines to keep patients safe during chemotherapy administration, and they must follow recommendations to ensure their own health and well-being in practice. Walton and her team noted the need for future studies to better understand and identify useful interventions to keep nurses and the healthcare workforce safe.  

ONS is a professional association of more than 35,000 members committed to promoting excellence in oncology nursing and the transformation of cancer care. Since 1975, ONS has provided a professional community for oncology nurses, developed evidence-based education programs and treatment information, and advocated for patient care, all in an effort to improve quality of life and outcomes for patients with cancer and their families. Learn more at www.ons.org

Media Contact: Nicole Lininger
nlininger@ons.org