Chemotherapy Safety Precautions For Home Carers
Doctors have used chemotherapy to treat cancer patients for several decades, and physicians now use many types of chemotherapy medication. Doctors can administer chemo drugs in a clinic or hospital, but many people also receive treatment at home. In any case, if you need to look after somebody who is having chemotherapy treatment, you need to know how to protect other people from the chemotherapy medication contamination. Find out what you need to do here.
How chemo drugs work
Chemotherapy drugs work in a number of different ways, and a consultant will select a drug according to its properties. For example, alkylating agents stop the genetic material in cells from reproducing, which can halt the progress of tumor growth. Similarly, anthracylines are a type of antibiotic that interferes with important enzymes in the DNA replication process. As such, the drugs your loved one receives may differ entirely from those given to another patient.
Most chemotherapy drugs can cause serious side effects. These side effects can affect the person receiving care, but if a healthy person accidentally ingests or comes into contact with these drugs, he or she can also become seriously ill. As such, when you're looking after somebody who is undergoing chemotherapy, you need to take several safety precautions to make sure the drugs don't harm anyone else in the home.
How healthy people can come into contact with the drugs
When a loved one has chemotherapy, the drugs can remain in his or her body for up to a week. During this period, the risk of contamination is high because the drugs get into the fluids and waste the patient produces. The highest contamination risks come from urine, stools and vomit, but the dangerous drugs can get into saliva, sweat, semen and breast milk.
Your loved one may need your help when using the toilet, especially in the first few days after chemotherapy when he or she may feel weaker than normal. In the first week after treatment, you should put the toilet lid down before you flush the toilet. This will prevent any contaminated material splashing into the room. It's also a good idea to flush the toilet twice for the first 48 hours after treatment, to make sure you wash away all waste material.
Personal protective equipment
When you're looking after a loved one, you may need to handle soiled clothes, bed linen and towels. If you don't wear protective equipment, you may come into contact with contaminated waste material. The most crucial items for home carers are chemosafety gloves. These disposable latex gloves are thicker than the normal variety, and will stop contaminated material from soaking through and touching your skin. If you can't get chemosafety gloves, it's a good idea to wear two pairs of normal latex gloves.
Nurses also use disposable chemosafety gowns, which are waterproof and close from the back. This design minimizes the risk of contamination through the front of the body. You should wear one of these gowns when changing soiled linen or loading dirty clothes in the washing machine. Wash soiled clothes, towels and linen in a separate load, and choose the maximum cycle that your washing machine offers. If you can't wash clothes straight away, seal them in plastic bags to stop anyone coming into contact with the contaminant.
Dealing with contamination and spills
If you (or a member of the family) come into contact with the drugs or contaminated waste, thoroughly wash the affected skin with soap and running water. You may experience some redness and irritation, but this should subside within an hour. If the irritation doesn't clear up within an hour, you should seek medical attention.
If you spill chemo drugs or contaminated material, make sure you put protective gloves on before cleaning up the mess. Soak up liquids with disposable paper towels, and then clean the contaminated area with a cloth and warm, soapy water. Rinse the area with clean water, and allow the surface to dry naturally. Seal dirty cloths in a plastic bag before you place them in the trash.
Chemotherapy drugs save lives, but this type of medication presents a hazard to other people. Consult your loved one's medical team and at home healthcare service for more advice about the safety precautions you should take.