Veterinary Oncology: Associated Risks & Veterinary Worker Respiratory Safety

Veterinary medicine is a growth field. The U.S. Department of Labor says the employment outlook for both veterinarians and veterinary technicians is expanding much faster than most other occupations.

Simultaneously, cancer treatment for companion animals, particularly dogs, is a growing veterinary endeavor. You can see how one university organization estimates the market size on pages 3 and 4 of the presentation offered here:

It seems reasonable to conclude that more and more veterinary workers will be involved in administering chemotherapy drugs to animals, exposing workers to the same risks from hazardous drugs as health care workers who work with human cancer patients.

Risks associated with chemotherapy drugs

The CDC says risks associated with chemotherapy drugs are well documented and may include hair loss, damage to liver and kidneys, hearing impairment and cancer.

Different drugs have different risk factors. Some are categorized as carcinogenic [can cause cancer] and some mutagenic [can alter DNA].

A third categorization that may be of particular concern to female veterinary workers is teratogenic [can cause birth defects].

In Administering Chemotherapy: Is It Safe for Pregnant or Breast-feeding Veterinary Technicians?, a peer-reviewed article published in 2010 by Veterinary Technician at [website requires registration], the author notes that strong work guidelines, such as use of  PPE [personal protective equipment] and solid ventilation strategies can decrease the likelihood of exposure.

Ductless Fume Hoods, engineering controls within an engineered ventilation strategy

At Sentry Air, we think all workers deserve to breathe clean air. We design and manufacture systems that help make that happen, including ductless fume hoods that help reduce harmful airborne fumes and particles from the operator’s breathing zone.

Chemotherapy drugs may arrive at a veterinary practice as powders or liquids, as noted on page 1 of the linked CDC/NIOSH report on chemotherapy at a veterinary teaching hospital.

Our ductless fume hoods can be equipped with both HEPA and Activated Carbon filters; each filter type has specific capabilities for capturing harmful or unpleasant substances.

The 30-inch wide Ductless Fume Hood SS-330-DCH, shown above, creates a negative-pressure environment designed for operator protection. Its powerful, engineered air flow pulls harmful fumes up and away from the operator’s breathing zone and into the filter chamber.

This unit’s filter chamber can combine HEPA and Activated Carbon filters to provide optimal efficiency in capturing harmful particles, fumes and odors.

HEPA filtration is up to 99.97% efficient on particles 0.3 microns and larger. Activated Carbon filters contain highly porous charcoal that has been treated with oxygen to expand its capability to attract and retain a wide range of odors.

Ducted Exhaust Hood Veterinary Oncology Solutions

As noted on page 8 of the linked CDC/NIOSH report, some chemotherapy drugs, such as carmustine and mustargen, are considered more volatile than others, such as ifosfamide and clyclophosphamide.

When handling volatile chemotherapy drugs, typically it is best to exhaust fumes and odors to the exterior of the building via a ducting system designed for that purpose.

Sentry Air offers an array of ducted exhaust hoods ranging in interior size from 18 to 70 inches in width that can be ducted to an exterior ducting system. Model SS-330-E is shown above. [Sentry Air does not provide the exterior ducting system.]

Custom hoods may offer a good match for your veterinary practice

Perhaps you prefer to keep all your oncology related activities confined to one space in your clinic. One way to accomplish that might be to prepare the chemo and administer it within a hood dedicated to oncology procedures.

A custom hood, one large enough to accommodate both drug preparation and the animal patient that will receive it, is feasible. Sentry Air has designed and delivered custom hoods of varied sizes and materials to address specific work practices while helping to provide protective ventilation for workers.


Occupational Exposure to Antineoplastic Agents

Chemotherapy Drug Evaluation at a Veterinary Teaching Hospital –Michigan

Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, Veterinary Technicians:


Preventing Occupational Exposures to Antineoplastic and Other Hazardous Drugs in Health Care Settings

Workplace solutions: Safe Handling of Hazardous Drugs for Veterinary Healthcare Workers

Administering Chemotherapy: Is it Safe for Pregnant or Breast-feeding Veterinary Technicians?, Veterinary Technician, October 2010 [website requires registration]