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23-08-2011 | General practice | Article

Oncology nurses have substantial skin and eye exposure to chemotherapy


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MedWire News: A significant percentage of ambulatory oncology nurses in Michigan, USA report unintentional eye and skin exposure to chemotherapy drugs, say researchers.

"Any unintentional exposure to the skin or eyes could be just as dangerous as a needle stick," said lead study author Christopher Friese from the University of Michigan.

"We have minimized needle stick incidents so that they are rare events that elicit a robust response from administrators. Nurses go immediately for evaluation and prophylactic treatment. But we don't have that with chemotherapy exposure," he added.

Friese and team carried out a statewide survey of 1339 oncology nurses between April and June 2010 who were employed outside of hospital inpatient units. They assessed the likelihood of self-reported exposure to chemotherapy drugs in relation to the perceived quality of the working environment, nursing workload, and seven ambulatory chemotherapy administration safety standards.

In total, 30.4% (n=402) of nurses contacted responded to the survey. The reported overall skin and eye exposure to chemotherapy drugs over the last year for those who responded was 16.9%.

Multivariate analysis controlling for demographic characteristics and clustering of nurses in practices suggested that the risks for exposure were reduced by a significant 65% when adequate staffing and resources were available.

Similarly, risks were reduced by a significant 83% when chemotherapy doses were frequently or very frequently checked by two nurses.

"This research shows that paying attention to the workload, the health of an organization, and the quality of working conditions pays off. It's not just about job satisfaction - it's likely to lower the risk of these occupational hazards," Friese commented.

The investigators explain that part of the problem with providing adequate follow up to such exposure is that its more difficult to link exposure to chemotherapy drugs with a direct health effect than, for example, a needle stick incident.

However, they highlight the importance of minimizing such exposure due to the potential adverse effects that chemotherapy drugs can have on the nervous and reproductive system, as well as increasing a person's risk for blood cancers.

"If we ensure patient safety, we should also ensure employee safety by strictly adhering to the national safety guidelines and providing staff education on these guidelines," Friese emphasized.

By Helen Albert

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