Can This National Campaign Prevent Chemotherapy Errors?

Are chemo mistakes fatal?A campaign launched by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) is seeking to prevent medical mistakes involving a certain type of chemotherapy drug. The “Just Bag It” campaign centers around vincristine, a drug used to treat patients with leukemia and lymphoma. Since the 1960’s, there have been 125 fatal chemotherapy errors worldwide caused by this drug.

Vincristine enters the bloodstream, where it works to prevent cancer cells from separating and spreading. However, the campaign calls for hospitals to administer the drug through an IV drip. Vincristine is highly neurotoxic. If the drug is injected into spinal fluid, it can travel to the brain and kill patients. In fact, this type of medical mistake is uniformly fatal. According to the campaign website, when vincristine is injected into the spinal fluid, it causes paralysis, neurological defects, and death.

Many patients with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia are treated with a combination of chemotherapy drugs. Doctors may mistake vincristine with other chemotherapy drugs that are injected into the spinal fluid. They may also inject it into the wrong part of the body.

A 21-year-old California man being treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma was tragically killed by a medical mistake involving vincristine. Doctor’s injected the syringe into his spinal column instead of a vein. He died shortly afterwards. The man’s parents were present in Philadelphia for the launch of the Just Bag It campaign.

How Can Doctors Prevent Chemotherapy Mistakes?

NCCN guidelines suggest diluting vincristine into an IV-drip bag, so the risk of injecting into the spinal fluid is not present. The possibility for medical mistakes is too great when health care professionals inject the drug into patients. In addition, the guidelines ensure that patients do not receive an improper dosage.

Families of patients harmed by medical mistakes involving vincristine may have legal options. The Florida medical malpractice lawyers at Shapiro Law Group have over 30 years of experience helping families harmed by hospital mistakes.


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