FORT WASHINGTON, PA--(Marketwired - November 10, 2016) -
Editors: An online press kit is available at www.NCCN.org/justbagit
As part of its mission to improve the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of cancer care so that patients can live better lives, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) today announced the launch of Just Bag It: The NCCN Campaign for Safe Vincristine Handling. This campaign encourages health care providers to adopt a policy to always dilute and administer vincristine in a mini IV-drip bag to prevent a deadly medical error.
Vincristine is a chemotherapy agent, widely used in patients with Leukemia or Lymphoma, which should be administered intravenously, or directly into the patient's vein. When it enters the blood, it is highly effective at blocking the growth of cancer by preventing cells from separating. However, vincristine is a neurotoxin that causes peripheral neuropathy when given intravenously and profound neurotoxicity if given into the spinal fluid, which flows around the spinal cord and brain.
Many patients who receive vincristine have a treatment regimen that includes other chemotherapy drugs that are administered intrathecally, or injected into the spinal fluid with a syringe. If vincristine is mistakenly administered into the spinal fluid, it is uniformly fatal, causing ascending paralysis, neurological defects, and eventually death.
In 2005, NCCN Chief Executive Officer Robert W. Carlson, MD, a medical oncologist, witnessed such a tragedy with a 21 year-old patient with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma named Christopher Wibeto. Wibeto was transferred to Carlson's care after receiving incorrectly administered vincristine at another hospital. Carlson watched the young man go from having a likely curable condition to deteriorating and dying within four days. Motivated by this tragic experience, Carlson spearheaded a national effort to address this deadly error when he arrived at NCCN, enlisting the help of its Best Practices Committee, which is dedicated to improving cancer treatment protocols.
To ensure that vincristine is always administered properly, NCCN has issued guidelines advising health care providers to always dilute and administer vincristine in a mini IV-drip bag and never use a syringe to administer the medication. This precaution renders it impossible to accidentally administer the medication into the spinal fluid and greatly decreases the chances of improper dosage.
All 27 NCCN Member Institutions have adopted policies in line with these guidelines, which are also recommended by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, the Joint Commission, the World Health Organization, and the Oncology Nursing Society.
"We are proud of this achievement and grateful for the support and participation of our Member Institutions in reaching this goal," Carlson said. "Our efforts will not stop here. We challenge all medical centers, hospitals, and oncology practices around the nation and the world to implement this medication safety policy so this error never occurs again."
Surveys issued by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) show that over time, more hospitals have adopted a policy to always bag vincristine. According to ISMP data, the number of hospitals that have fully implemented the policy across their practice nearly doubled between February 2014 and February 2016. Earlier surveys indicated a similar increase between 2005 and 2012. Still, only about half of all respondents indicated that they have implemented the policy in all treatment settings, indicating that there is a long way to go.
With 125 known cases of accidental death in the U.S. and abroad since the inception of vincristine use in the 1960s, this error is relatively rare. Still, it is unique in its level of mortality. Improvements in practice over the years, including manufacturer- and pharmacist-issued warning labels, have reduced the number of deaths, but the error continues to occur.
Diluting vincristine into a mini IV-drip bag may entail a change in practice for some providers, but it is well worth the outcome of avoiding preventable deaths, according to Michael Cohen, RPh, MS, FASHP, President of ISMP.
"One more life taken is one too many," Cohen said. "We are glad an organization of NCCN's influence has stepped up to bring this issue to national attention. Ending this devastating error should be a priority for all of us who care for and advocate on behalf of patients and their families."
Some health care providers may associate the use of an IV bag with a heightened risk of extravasation, or the leaking of a chemotherapy drug into the tissue surrounding the intravenous administration site. But research shows that the risk of extravasation is extremely low. 
"The Just Bag It campaign is the latest of NCCN's long-standing efforts to improve the safe use of drugs in cancer care," said F. Marc Stewart, MD, Medical Director of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Professor of Medicine at University of Washington, and Co-Chair of the NCCN Best Practices Committee. "For more than 15 years, the Best Practices Committee has worked to ensure the highest standards of safety for patients."
In 2008, the Best Practices Committee led the charge for NCCN to begin publishing Chemotherapy Order Templates (NCCN Templates®), which detail the most common regimens for many cancers and highlight safety parameters. These resources enable practitioners to standardize patient care, reduce medication errors, and anticipate and manage adverse events. There are more than 1,500 NCCN Templates® for 86 cancer types, and they are used by more than 10,000 subscribers.
For more information about Just Bag It: The NCCN Campaign for Safe Vincristine Handling, or to report that a medical facility has adopted a vincristine policy, visit www.NCCN.org/JustBagIt.
About the National Comprehensive Cancer Network
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®), a not-for-profit alliance of 27 of the world's leading cancer centers devoted to patient care, research, and education, is dedicated to improving the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of cancer care so that patients can live better lives. Through the leadership and expertise of clinical professionals at NCCN Member Institutions, NCCN develops resources that present valuable information to the numerous stakeholders in the health care delivery system. As the arbiter of high-quality cancer care, NCCN promotes the importance of continuous quality improvement and recognizes the significance of creating clinical practice guidelines appropriate for use by patients, clinicians, and other health care decision-makers.
The NCCN Member Institutions are: Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, Omaha, NE; Case Comprehensive Cancer Center/University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center and Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, Cleveland, OH; City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, Los Angeles, CA; Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center | Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston, MA; Duke Cancer Institute, Durham, NC; Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA; Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT; Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center/Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Seattle, WA; The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, MD; Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, Chicago, IL; Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, Phoenix/Scottsdale, AZ, Jacksonville, FL, and Rochester, MN; Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY; Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, FL; The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, Columbus, OH; Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY; Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO; St. Jude Children's Research Hospital/The University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, TN; Stanford Cancer Institute, Stanford, CA; University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center, Birmingham, AL; UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, La Jolla, CA; UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, San Francisco, CA; University of Colorado Cancer Center, Aurora, CO; University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, Ann Arbor, MI; The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX; University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, Madison, WI; Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Nashville, TN; and Yale Cancer Center/Smilow Cancer Hospital, New Haven, CT.
Clinicians, visit NCCN.org. Patients and caregivers, visit NCCN.org/patients. Media, visit NCCN.org/news.
 ISMP. Death and neurological devastation from intrathecal vinca alkaloids: Prepared in syringes = 120; Prepared in minibags = 0. ISMP Medication Safety Alert! 2013;18(18):3.
The following files are available for download: