Whether they are nurses, orderlies, doctors or even veterinarians, many healthcare professionals handle cancer drugs. Unfortunately, some of these treatments are themselves carcinogenic, says the National health security agency (Handles).
In this case, these are cytostatics, drugs “administered in particular as part of chemotherapy to treat cancer”, specifies ANSES. While they are effective against cancer cells, they could, on the other hand, exhibit carcinogenic properties for healthy cells.
“At the hospital, they can also be used in services other than oncology units, such as rheumatology, immunology, dermatology, or even gynecology”, she adds. In all, nearly 92,000 medical workers are said to be exposed to these substances.
Asked about the issue by the Directorate-General for Labor, ANSES recommends including work exposing 18 cytostatic active ingredients in the decree establishing the list of carcinogenic processes in labor law.
Unlike products used in an industrial environment, the European regulation does not require the user to be warned of the dangerous nature of drugs via specific labeling. By proposing to include work exposing these 18 substances in the French decree, we are contributing to the development of the regulatory framework for better protection of exposed professionals, underlined Henri Bastos, Scientific Director for occupational health at ANSES.
In the case of cytostatics, it is difficult to consider substitution of these substances since their use is essential in the therapeutic interest of patients, notes ANSES. The agency, therefore, offers better control of the risks for the people who handle them. It recommends that employers raise awareness and train their workers potentially exposed to this carcinogenic risk, for example by reviewing their technique for removing gloves and handling contaminated material.
L’anses also calls for a deepening of knowledge on the carcinogenic risk linked to exposure to drugs, beyond cytostatics.