Friday January 19, 2018

The hidden dangers of talcum powder: ‘Why aren’t they warning people about it?’

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By Prachi Mishra

Talcum powder is an intrinsic part of everyday lifestyle. Each one of us has sprinkled a dash of talcum over ourselves to not only improve our appearances and personal hygiene, but to also tackle the adverse effects of hot and humid weather.

However, most of the people are unaware about the fact that this soft and silky powder is slowly taking a toll on their health. The possible benefits of talcum powder are drastically outweighed by the hazards it causes.

From a last few years, certain concerns have been raised regarding its widespread use. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found out that talc containing asbestiform fibres is carcinogenic to humans, i.e. cancer-inducing. There have been several reports stating that talc inhalation is hazardous for infants and its use for personal hygiene can increase the risk of ovarian cancer in women.

A little trivia

Talcum powder is made up from talc, a mineral mainly comprising magnesium, silicon and oxygen. Its natural formation starts from soapstone composed of talc, chlorite, mica, quartz, tremolite, magnetite and iron. The soapstone gradually changes over time in the presence of carbon dioxide and water (carbonation) from hard dense rock to pure talc. In this natural form, some talc contains asbestos, a substance known to cause cancer.

The link between talc and cancer

In 1987, the International Agency for Research on Cancer wrote a review on the carcinogenicity of talc. It separated the powder into with and without asbestiform fibres. With time, some studies were also conducted amongst the talc workers in New York.

In the overall assessment, it was noticed that there’s enough evidence to prove that exposure to asbestiform containing talc can increase the risk of cancer in people.

In Japanese literature, the first report of death of an infant caused by inhaling baby powder dates back to 1961. K. Motomatsu, H. Adachi and T. Uno conducted an experiment in rats that revealed talc inhalation is fatal. They found that “it coats and dries the mucus membranes, causes hemorrhage, edema and desquamation of the bronchial epithelium, clogs up and compromises mucociliary clearance in the airways while larger quantities may completely obstruct airways.”

Several studies have reported an association between ovarian cancer and the use of talcum powder in genital area. In 2006, the IARC stated in a report that the perennial use of talcum powder can increase the risk of ovarian cancer in women.

A big name in pharmaceutics, Johnsons and Johnsons, is facing two lawsuits filed in 2014 by two women. Both the cases claim that the company has been responsible for giving ovarian cancer to women through their talcum powder products.

Deane Berg, a resident of South Dakota, stated in her lawsuit that she used Johnson’s Baby Powder and its Shower to Shower powder as a feminine hygiene product for several years. In late 2006, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She said that talc, a key ingredient in Johnson’s Baby Powder and in Shower to Shower, caused her cancer.

Doctors removed cancerous tissues from her body for examination and found talc particles embedded in those tissues and concluded that talcum powder was the cause of her cancer.

She claimed that Johnsons and Johnsons was negligent towards women’s health by not putting a warning about the dangers of using talc based powders.

Another woman, Mona Estrata, filed a case against Johnsons and Johnsons claiming that despite knowing the risks of its powder products, the company did nothing to warn its customers of the hazards of using them.

It’s surprising that despite such evidences of serious health effects caused by use of talcum powders in the West, people in India have continued to use them gladly. One of the major reasons for this is that people are not aware of the potential dangers of using talcum powders. Several pharmaceutical companies continue to manufacture powders containing talc without giving a statuary warning.

On asking about the risks involved with talcum powders, a doctor at Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi told NewsGram, “Absestos is a known risk factor for lung and abdominal carcinoma. Asbestos containing talc therefore should come with a warning. More studies on asbestos free talc should be undertaken on global basis for to look for possible carcinogenic side effects.”

There is a need to raise public awareness about the risks involved with talcum powders. The government regulatory bodies should ensure that the public is protected from the consumption of products that are hazardous.

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  • Vrushali Mahajan

    This is really informative, they should warn people about it! Talc has been a part of daily life of thousands of people, hey should know about its advantages and disadvantages

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Rene Laennec: The Man Who Invented Stethoscope

He invented the stethoscope but that wasn't his only major contribution or achievement in the medical field.

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Rene Laennec- The man who invented stethoscope. Wikimedia Commons
Rene Laennec- The man who invented stethoscope. Wikimedia Commons

by Ruchika Verma

  • Rene Laennec invented stethoscopes in 1816
  • He also coined many other medical terms which helped us in understanding a different kind of diseases
  • His contribution in the field of medicine are immense and will always be remembered

One thing which is most frequently associated with a doctor is a stethoscope. Be it advertisements or real life, a stethoscope is one thing which we see hanging around every doctor’s neck.

The stethoscope is an instrument which is used by doctors to hear a patient’s heartbeats and to check their breathing. This medical instrument is used to hear the resonance of sounds made by our hearts and lungs for evaluative purposes. The instrument has been an object of fascination for a long time, because of its simple design, which consists of just a resonator and two tubes.

Stethoscopes are quintessential to a doctor. Pixabay.
Stethoscopes are quintessential to a doctor. Pixabay.

But who invented the stethoscope?

René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec or simply known as Rene Laennec, was a French physician who invented stethoscope in the year, 1816. He invented this medical instrument while working at the Necker Hospital in France, and used it in diagnosing various chest and lung conditions, pioneering the whole concept.

Rene-Laennec invented the Stethoscope. Wikimedia Commons
Rene-Laennec invented the Stethoscope in 1816. Wikimedia Commons

He was born on February 17, 1781, Brittany, France and died on August 13, 1826, Kerlouanec due to Tuberculosis.

Necessity for this invention

Rene Laennec invented stethoscopic or stethoscope because of his embarrassment while treating women. He didn’t like to put his ear at their chest in order to diagnose their problems, especially in the case of overweight women. He also found this method of listening to heartbeats very ineffective.

The original stethoscope was just a piece of paper rolled into a cylinder. Pixabay.
The original stethoscope was just a piece of paper rolled into a cylinder. Pixabay.

As a result, he invented an instrument which won’t require him to put his ear on his patient’s chest and will be more effective. He rolled a piece of paper into a cylinder and placed one side on the patient’s chest and the other near his ear. He found that he could hear the sounds better.

His contributions to the Medical Field 

He invented the stethoscope but that wasn’t his only major contribution or achievement in the medical field.

He famously coined the term ‘melanoma’, which is a type of cancer that typically occurs in the skin but rarely occur in the mouth or intestines. He was the one who recognised that melanotic lesions are the result of metastatic melanoma.

Laennec is also well known for his studies of peritonitis, amenorrhea and tubercle lesions. He also coined the term cirrhosis, which is a lung disease. His works played a huge role in the understanding the of this disease.

You may also like: Acharya Charaka: Indian father Of Medicine, Author of Charaka Samhita “science of Ayurveda” 

A difference in the design of Traditional and Modern Stethoscopes

The modern stethoscopes that we see today are not what Rene Laennec invented. His original design was rather simple. The doctor’s stethoscope that we see today is much more complex that Laennec’s simple design.

His original design was just a tube, which could be made of wood and copper. It could be assembled and dissembled easily as per the convenience of the physician. The new age stethoscope is a modification of his original design.

The original design of Rene Laennac's stethoscope. Wikimedia Commons
The original design of Rene Laennec’s stethoscope. Wikimedia Commons

His original stethoscope was replaced by the stethoscopes using rubber tubes by end of the 19th century.

A modern day stethoscope using rubber tubes and a resonator. Pixabay
A modern-day stethoscope using rubber tubes and a resonator. Pixabay

Achievements

The government of France honoured Rene Laennec with First Prize in Medicine and Sole Prize in Surgery in 1803.

He was also conferred with the title of the ‘Knight of the Legion of Honor’ in 1824.

His contributions in the medical fields are immense and for it, he will always be remembered.