Healthcare workers involved in the preparation and application of drugs for cancer treatment are frequently exposed to cytotoxic substances. A long-term study shows how the repeated monitoring of surface contamination in pharmacies can reduce the exposure risk.
Antineoplastic drugs, or anti-cancer drugs, are medicines used in chemotherapy to kill off malignant tumor cells. Unfortunately these drugs often cause severe side effects by accidentally damaging healthy cells as well. This is not only a problem for the patient but can also become dangerous for healthcare workers, especially those who are directly involved in preparing and applying the drugs. Occupational exposure, which usually happens via skin contact, can lead to adverse effects such as a higher risk of cancer, development of genetic mutations and impairment of reproductive abilities.
A recent research paper by Antje Böhlandt and Rudolf Schierl from the Institute and Outpatient Clinic for Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine in Munich, published in Pharmaceutical Technology in Hospital Pharmacy, has now presented the results of a long-term study on environmental contamination in 151 hospital and retail pharmacies. The aim of the study was to monitor contamination levels of two types of antineoplastic drugs over the course of 15 years. For this purpose, each pharmacy regularly collected wipe samples from various surfaces and provided them for laboratory analyses.
Surface contamination levels decreased over time
The researchers found the highest levels of contamination predominantly in locations where large quantities of antineoplastic drugs are handled and spillage is likely to happen: specifically in biological safety cabinets, storage areas and waste disposal systems. Other surfaces such as floors or transport boxes also had considerable contaminations.
The analyses also showed that contamination levels decreased substantially over the monitored time frame, especially in more recent years. The researchers attribute this positive development to the introduction of threshold guidance values in 2008, increased awareness of health hazards by antineoplastic drugs and constant improvements in occupational hygiene practice.
Altogether, long-term monitoring is assumed to have had a positive effect since every pharmacy that regularly received their individual results got the opportunity to identify problem areas and to apply corrective measures if necessary.
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