Several anticancer treatments are themselves carcinogenic, warns ANSES

Posted on Jul 20, 2021, 11:11 AM

Several treatments used to treat cancer are themselves carcinogenic, alert, this Tuesday, the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES). These drugs, 18 in total, are used as part of chemotherapy, especially via intravenous injections.

Beneficial for patients, they must nevertheless be handled with care. Because there is a risk for people exposed to it, from caregivers to cleaning staff.

Nurses, orderlies and veterinarians concerned

Seized by the Ministry of Labor, ANSES therefore proposes to include these 18 substances, known as cytostatic substances, in the order setting the list of carcinogenic processes according to the Labor Code. Such registration would facilitate the recognition of the nature of an occupational disease for people declaring cancer when they have been exposed to these active ingredients of drugs, “mainly used to treat cancer, in human medicine as in veterinary medicine”.

This would also contribute to “better protection of exposed professionals” because today, “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”, emphasizes Henri Bastos, scientific director for occupational health at ANSES.

According to a 2017 Labor Ministry survey, 91,900 employees were then exposed to these substances, “from manufacturing to handling, including transport, waste management, cleaning, etc. », Underlines ANSES. This therefore concerns nurses, orderlies, doctors and veterinarians, but also other categories such as cleaning staff.

Effects on cell development

Cytostatic substances have the ability to block the multiplication of certain cells. This property is used in chemotherapy drugs to prevent or slow the growth of cancerous tumors but also against certain autoimmune diseases and in anti-rejection treatments used after a transplant. But because of their very mechanism of action, they “are likely to exhibit carcinogenic properties for healthy cells”, as well as “effects on reproduction and development”, explains ANSES.

ANSES also recommends that employers and employees be made more aware of the risks posed by these products. To “control the existing risks as well as possible”, it suggests, for example, “setting up monitoring of the exposure of these professionals” or training them in “techniques for removing potentially contaminated gloves”.

The decree of October 26, 2020, resulting from the transposition of a European directive, lists for the moment nine types of work as “carcinogenic within the meaning of the Labor Code”, among which those exposing to formaldehyde, wood dust and to respirable crystalline silica dust. Exposure to engine lubricants and diesel engine exhaust was added in May.

With AFP

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