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Unsafe handling of cancer drugs puts pregnant nurses, their babies at risk: study

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Washington — Nearly 40 percent of pregnant nurses don’t wear protective gowns when administering powerful cancer drugs, putting their own health and that of their unborn babies at risk, results of a recent study from NIOSH suggest.

Reviewing data collected from more than 40,000 nurses in the United States and Canada who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study 3, researchers from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined the use of personal protective equipment during the administration of antineoplastic drugs by pregnant and non-pregnant nurses.

Findings showed that 38 percent of pregnant nurses reported not wearing a protective gown when administering the drugs, while 42 percent of non-pregnant nurses said the same. Additionally, among nurses who were pregnant, half said they did not wear a gown while administering the drugs during their first 20 weeks of pregnancy, and 1 in 10 did not always wear gloves during their first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Many of the antineoplastic – or chemotherapeutic – drugs are known to be reproductive toxicants in cancer patients and probable human carcinogens, the researchers noted.

“Many of these drugs can also damage a person’s fertility or harm a pregnancy, for example by causing a miscarriage or birth defects,” lead author and NIOSH epidemiologist Christina Lawson said in a Jan. 9 press release.

Nurses administer chemotherapeutic drugs in liquid and pill form to patients with various types of cancers. NIOSH states that gloves and gowns are the minimum PPE recommended for cancer drug administration among nurses.

The study was published online Jan. 1 in the American Journal of Nursing.

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