Research amongst cancer nurses published in a national clinical journal shows that more regular training is needed to ensure cancer nurses are better able to protect themselves whilst they administer chemotherapy.

Published in Cancer Nursing Practice, the research by Alison Simons and Samantha Toland from Birmingham City University, was carried out via a short, anonymous online survey of eight questions to find out more about the awareness of risk, training undertaken and safety precautions practiced when handling systemic anti cancer therapy (SACT) agents and patient waste.

The results revealed only 59% of respondents had received any training within the last 12 months in line with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines (2014)

This had subsequently led to lack of awareness about the carcinogenic, teratogenic and mutagenic elements present in some of the chemotherapy drugs as well as the health risks and long-term effects.

The authors concluded that the precautions used to minimise exposure to SACT agents do not appear to be adequate and the majority of respondents relied heavily on personal protective equipment, specifically gloves and aprons, which is the third level in the hierarchy of control measures to prevent occupational exposure (HSE, 2014, NIOSH 2004, Sessink et al 2015).

Concluding their research, the authors recommended the number one priority should be the use of totally enclosed systems to administer SACT, where reasonably practicable.

In addition to more training on an annual basis, the conclusions called for better auditing of clinical practice and further research to explore the surface contamination levels within SACT handling, administration and waste disposal areas.

Simons A, Toland S (2019) Systemic anticancer therapy handling safety: healthcare workers’ awareness, knowledge, training and use of protection measures. Cancer Nursing Practice. doi: 10.7748/cnp.2019.e1657