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Drug errors in leukaemia

15th August 2006

15082006_childchemo1.jpgResearch by American scientists, published in the journal Cancer, suggests that a fifth of children treated for leukaemia may not receive the appropriate chemotherapy regime because of medication errors. 

Leukaemia accounts for one third of all childhood cancers, with about 500 cases among under-15s diagnosed in Britain each year.

The study involved 69 children who were treated as outpatients, receiving 172 medications between them. Seventeen errors were detected either in the size of the doses prescribed or the way the drugs were administered. Thirteen children were affected by the errors, with little clinical impact in 9 of the children.

Although this was an American study, research suggests that medical error rates are similar in most Western health settings. Medication errors involving outpatients are thought to be more common than those involving inpatients.

The study recommended that when designing new chemotherapy treatments, there should be a balance between precision and simplicity to minimise the risk of errors.

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