Antineoplastic (Chemotherapy) Drugs

Working with antineoplastic drugs during pregnancy could increase your chances of having a miscarriage or a child with a birth defect. Here, you can learn more about working with antineoplastic drugs and what you can do to reduce your exposure for a healthier pregnancy.

What are antineoplastic drugs?

  • Antineoplastic drugs are medications used to treat cancer. Antineoplastic drugs are also called anticancer, chemotherapy, chemo, cytotoxic, or hazardous drugs.
  • These drugs come in many forms. Some are liquids that are injected into the patient and some are pills that patients take.

Why should I be concerned about exposure?

  • We know that cancer patients who are taking antineoplastic drugs have an increased risk of infertility. If they are treated during pregnancy, these patients have an increased risk of miscarriage or having a child with a birth defect.
  • People who work with these drugs have also been found to have an increased risk of having a miscarriage or a child with a birth defect.
  • Antineoplastic drugs work by targeting and killing rapidly dividing cancerous cells, but they can also be harmful to healthy dividing cells, including the cells of a developing baby.

Who is exposed to antineoplastic drugs?

  • Pharmacists or pharmacy technicians who prepare antineoplastic drugs.
  • Nurses who prepare and/or administer the drugs.
  • Doctors and operating room workers who treat patients who have antineoplastic drugs in their bodies.
  • Hospital staff such as shipping and receiving personnel, custodial workers, laundry workers, and waste handlers who might come into contact with these drugs through their work, by transporting the drugs, cleaning up spills, or handling linens contaminated with bodily fluids from patients receiving antineoplastic drugs.
  • Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and other animal care workers who treat or come into contact with animals who are taking these drugs.

What is not known?

  • We don’t know what causes most miscarriages or birth defects. If you work with antineoplastic drugs and have a miscarriage or a baby with a birth defect, we often can’t tell if it was caused by working with antineoplastic drugs or if it was caused by something else.
  • We don’t know what levels of antineoplastic drugs are safe. Try to reduce or eliminate your exposure as much as possible.

What can I do to reduce or eliminate exposure?

  • Take precautions to eliminate or reduce exposure as much as possible by following guidance in the NIOSH Alert on antineoplastic drugs for recommendations on protective clothing and equipment. Share this NIOSH Alert with your employer to make sure they are following the most recent guidance on protecting you and other workers from exposure to antineoplastic drugs.

Where can I get more information?

Page last reviewed: October 28, 2019