Health Inc.

Cancer Drugs Can Sicken Health Care Workers

How often do you think about the side effects cancer drugs can have on health workers?

Probably never, we'd guess. But a series from the nonprofit journalism outfit InvestigateWest could change that. The reports document decades of inattention to the hazards chemo meds pose to workers and a failure of voluntary safeguards to adequately protect them.

The tradeoff for cancer patients between treatment and side effects is one thing. But drugs that can tame tumors can also cause cancer in people who handle the medicines. They can also lead to miscarriages, birth defects and other illnesses. (See this rundown of pharmaceutical hazards from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.)

Over time, even small amounts of medicine spilled on counters or floors can take a toll. Medicine can enter workers bodies through cuts, or the air they breathe.

Take the case of pharmacist Sue Crump, who died of pancreatic cancer last year at age 55. For years she prepared toxic chemo treatments for cancer patients without adequate workplace protections. Some call that workplace exposure "secondhand chemo."

As Crump faced death, she told reporter Carol Smith, "Safety needs to be revisited. People don't take this seriously enough."

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