Patients worry about cancer risk whilst using apnea machine

In June 2021, electronics company Philips reported that their apnea machines possibly cause cancer. That was why the company called back five million apnea machines. However, lung physicians warn that not using an apnea machine is also not without risk. Together with the health inspection, they published an advice in July 2021 to keep using the devices until replacement, despite the risk. Amongst patients and experts, there is uncertainty about what grounds led to this advice. Martin Buijsen, Professor of Health Law at Erasmus School of Law, explains to Follow the Money that the patients could best ask their physician for the necessary information.

Apnea patients wake up multiple times per night because their breathing stops. Machines like the Dreamstation of Philips are built to help these patients sleep through the night. Not using this machine could have severe consequences in the long term. Therefore, the Inspection for Health Care and Youth (IGJ) and the Dutch Society of Pulmonology and Tuberculosis jointly advised continuing using the Dreamstations, even though they possibly cause cancer.

This advice raised questions amongst many patients. They doubt whether it is wise to keep using the machines or whether the risks of not-using do not outweigh the exposure to possible carcinogenic materials. It is unclear how the advice of the Inspection came to be. The Apnea Association and others have asked the Inspection to hand over the information that resulted in the given advice. The IGJ refuses to provide this information to patients because these confidential pieces would contain company-sensitive production information of Philips. Philips, however, denies the sensitivity of the information they shared with the IGJ.

However, Professor Buijsen sees a way out for patients without having to wait for information from the Inspection or Philips: “A patient does not have to ask for information on the machinery from the Inspection. The physician has chosen the use of the machine. The physician takes the risk, and he is obliged to give the patient the information they are entitled to.”

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