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Hazardous drugs include cytotoxic (chemotherapy) drugs, antibiotics, and radiopharmaceuticals.
Cytotoxic drugs – sometimes known as antineoplastic, anticancer, hazardous or cancer chemotherapy drugs – include a wide range of chemical compounds. By interfering with cell division, cytotoxic drugs not only have the ability to kill tumour cells, but also, if physical contact is made with the drugs for long periods of time, normal, healthy cells. With some chemotherapy drugs being mutagenic, they may cause changes in cell DNA which can result in cancer, miscarriage and/or birth defects. Acute health effects of cytotoxic drugs can include irritation of the skin, eyes and mucous membranes, light-headedness and nausea.
Hazardous antibiotics include all of the penicillins and many of the cephalosporins. A small percentage of the population is severely allergic to these agents and many others show evidence of mild allergies to even trace amounts of the drug.
Spills involving radiopharmaceuticals used in diagnosis and treatment of patients can expose personnel to the effects of radiation if not correctly managed and a small percentage of the population may exhibit allergies to varying degrees
The above information is not intended to create panic amongst healthcare workers dealing with hazardous drugs, but rather, aims to enhance awareness within the industry about the specialised precautions to take when handling such drugs. It is critical to be aware of why personal protective equipment (PPE) is required to be worn at all times during administration or preparation of cytotoxic drugs, antibiotics and radiopharmaceuticals and also to be aware of the safe and proper procedures for spill cleanups to reduce personal exposure.