Monday, July 12, 2010

Lifesaving cancer drugs may put workers' lives at risk

by Carol Smith
updated 7/11/2010 12:44:32 PM ET

Sue Crump braced as the chemo drugs dripped into her body. She knew treatment would be rough. She had seen its signature countless times in the ravaged bodies and hopeful faces of cancer patients in hospitals where she had spent 23 years mixing chemo as a pharmacist.

Now she hoped those same medicines would kill the tumor cells lurking in her belly. At the same time, though, she wondered whether those same drugs may have caused her cancer to begin with.

Harnessing toxic agents to save a life demands a delicate balance. Chemo is poison, by design. Descended from deadly mustard gas first used against soldiers in World War I, now it’s deployed to stop the advance of cancer.

Crump knew she had her own war on her hands. And she wanted young pharmacists and nurses to pay attention to her story.

Little workplace regulation
The same powerful chemotherapy drugs that have saved hundreds of thousands of patients’ lives for decades have at the same time potentially taken a deadly toll on the hospital and clinic workers who handled them.

Crump, who died of pancreatic cancer last September at age 55, was one of thousands of health care workers who were chronically exposed to chemotherapy agents on the job for years before there were any safety guidelines in place.

Now, some of those workers, like Crump, are being diagnosed with cancers that occupational health specialists say could be linked to that exposure.

----- (skipping)

A just-completed study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 10 years in the making and the largest to date, confirms that chemo continues to contaminate the workspaces where it’s used, and in some cases is still being found in the urine of those who handle it, despite knowledge of safety precautions.

"There is no other occupation population (that handles) so many known human carcinogens,” said Thomas Connor, a research biologist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Connor has spent 40 years studying the effect of chemo agents on workers, and is one of the lead authors on the latest study.

Chemo agents have been classified as “hazardous drugs” by the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA

.) Hazardous drugs are those known, or suspected to cause cancer, miscarriages, birth defects, or other serious health consequences.
Paul Joseph Brown / Paul Joseph Brown Photography
Patty Allen, a long-time friend, holds Sue Crump's hand during a visit to say goodbye to her in hospice care in Kirkland, Wash.

But an InvestigateWest investigation has found that OSHA does not regulate exposure to these toxic substances in the workplace, despite evidence of ongoing contamination and exposures.

----- (skipping)

Danish epidemiologists used cancer registry data from the 1940s through the late 1980s to report a significantly increased risk of leukemia among oncology nurses and physicians. Last year, another Danish study of more than 92,000 nurses found an elevated risk for breast, thyroid, nervous system and brain cancers in the nursing population.

----- (skipping)

a number of studies have shown an association between exposure to chemo agents and reproductive issues including miscarriage, birth defects and low birth weights. A 2005 survey found significant associations with infertility and miscarriage in nurses who handled chemo before the age of 25. Nurses who administered nine or more doses of chemo a day had a greater chance of pre-term labor, or having children with learning disabilities.

----- (skipping)


No comments:

Post a Comment