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Health

Talcum powder products may be harmful to lungs, possible cause of ovarian cancer: feds

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  • TORONTO — Consumers are being warned to avoid inhaling talcum powder or using the products on the female genital area, as exposure may cause potentially serious respiratory problems  and possibly ovarian cancer.  

    Baby powder should also be kept away from a child’s face to avoid inhalation, Health Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada said Wednesday in releasing a draft screening assessment of products containing talc.

    The draft assessment focuses on the safety of talc in such self-care products as cosmetics; baby, body, face and foot powders; diaper and rash creams; and genital antiperspirants and deodorants.

    “When you inhale talc, the fine talc particles will get lodged inside of the lung, and over time there’s a cumulative effect associated with that,” said David Morin, director general of the safe environment directorate.

    Inhaling talc, a naturally occurring mineral, can cause difficulty breathing, decreased lung function and pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring of the lungs.

    Products containing talc have also been linked to ovarian cancer in some women, and the Canadian Cancer Society identifies its use on the female genitals as a possible risk factor for the malignancy.

    A number of class action lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada launched against Johnson & Johnson contend that longtime use of its talcum powder for feminine hygiene resulted in the development of the plaintiffs’ ovarian cancer. The cosmetics giant has denied its product, which has been on the market since 1894, causes the disease.   

    Despite studies suggesting a link, Health Canada has not mandated that labels on talc-containing products carry specific warnings about the possible link with the development of ovarian cancer or the respiratory risks to adults who inadvertently inhale talcum powder particles.

    Ottawa only requires label warnings related to the use of loose talc powder for infants and children, said Tolga Yalkin, head of the consumer products safety directorate.

    “Essentially, those warnings are: ‘Keep out of reach of children’ and ‘Keep out of the way of a child’s face to avoid inhalation, which can cause breathing problems,'” he said.

    The Canadian Paediatric Society also advises against the use of talcum powder — long used by parents to prevent diaper rash — for infants and babies.

    Muhannad Malas, toxics program manager for Environmental Defence, said Health Canada’s screening assessment shows that the effects of talc can be “really serious.”     

    “What we want to see here is some regulatory actions in terms of banning talcum powder in cosmetics and personal care products that pose significant risks to women and to children,” he said in an interview.

    The environmental action organization is also calling for “much stronger health warnings that would clearly identify the risks and clearly tell consumers why talcum is a problem and why we should avoid exposure to it,” he said. 

    Yalkin said the government is investigating the possibility of updating its cosmetic ingredient hotlist and possibly expanding warnings on product labels, but any decision would follow a 60-day consultation process and the final version of the screening assessment.

    The consultation will offer members of the public, talc-products manufacturers, academics and others to provide comment and information on the issue. Their input, as well as any new scientific evidence, will help inform the final assessment.

    “It’s possible you will see additional warnings that are mandated by Health Canada,” Yalkin said.

    Morin added that if the final screening assessment confirms that talc in certain products is harmful to human health, regulatory action will be taken to manage the identified risks.

    But Malas said he’s concerned about how long that process could take, from finalizing the screening assessment to taking regulatory action if deemed warranted.

    He said it took four to five years for the government to finalize a risk assessment for triclosan, an antibacterial chemical used in cleaning and personal care products, following release of its draft document, and another a few years more before it decided on what measures to take.

    “We want to avoid that,” he said. “I think what we’re looking for is some concrete and immediate actions in terms of reducing Canadians’ exposure, especially women’s exposure to talcum powder and also infants’ exposure.”

    Federal law requires companies to list the ingredients on cosmetic and personal care products, noted Yalkin.

    “So in the meantime, Canadians who are concerned about their exposure can check to see if (talc) is on the product that they’re considering using and make a decision accordingly.”

    The draft screening assessment will be published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, and will be open for public comment until Feb. 6. The Canada Gazette containing public notices, official appointments and proposed regulations from the federal government is published every Saturday, but available online Fridays at 2 p.m. Eastern time.

    — Follow @SherylUbelacker on Twitter.

    Sheryl Ubelacker, The Canadian Press




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    ‘Just like Iron Man’: Calgary surgeon undergoes experimental spinal surgery

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  • CALGARY — Dr. Richi Gill’s life changed in an instant.

    The 38-year-old surgeon, who helped develop Calgary’s bariatric surgery program, was involved in a freak accident on a boogie board during a family vacation in Hawaii one year ago.

    “The wave pushed me down instead of forward in pretty shallow waters. My head hit the ground and ended up breaking my neck,” Gill said following a recent physiotherapy session.

    “I don’t have any movement or sensation below that injury level. I do have some use of my arms but not my hands.”

    Gill described how he embarked on strenuous rehabilitation at Calgary’s Synaptic Spinal Cord Injury and Neuro Rehabilitation Centre, then headed to Thailand in October for experimental surgery.

    An epidural stimulation implant was placed in his lower back. With the use of a small device like a remote control, the implant sends electrical currents to Gill’s spinal cord to stimulate nerves and move his limbs, bypassing the traditional brain-to-spinal-cord pathways.

    The implant can be programmed to stimulate certain nerves mapped out by surgeons and therapists.

    Gill said his middle of three children, Akaash, thinks the implant is cool.

    “He’s very much like, ‘This is just like Iron Man! … We need the suit,” Gill said.

    “He’s only seven so I think he might think there’s a suit that’s out there somewhere.”

    The smile doesn’t fade from Gill’s face as, strapped into a harness, physiotherapists slowly help him walk with the use of a machine on wheels. Gill isn’t able to move his legs on his own, but by concentrating he is able to make his hip muscles flex and help himself along.

    “Right now, realistically, assisted stepping is where I’m at and being able to stand with assistance. Will I be able to walk on my own? It’s a possibility. My main focus is just trying to improve day by day and we’ll see where that gets me.

    “It’s definitely fatiguing because each time you try to take a step you have to really focus and concentrate to get that signal to the right spot.”

    Gill spent $100,000 for the surgery and travel, since they weren’t covered by health care or insurance. He plans to return to Thailand later this year to have a second stimulator placed higher up on his spine.

    His career as a surgeon is over, he said, but he hopes the operations in Thailand will help him regain some hand function and his overall quality of life.

    The spinal surgery is also performed in a few other countries such as the United States and Switzerland, but it’s much cheaper in Thailand.

    Only a half dozen people in Canada have had it done abroad and the number worldwide is about 30, said Dr. Aaron Phillips with the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.

    So few procedures having been done makes it harder to get approval from Health Canada or the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, he said.

    Phillips has been involved in assessing the procedure for the last nine years.

    “I’m just really overcautious about selling these things too early. And, although I am extremely excited about the potential of this therapy, it still needs to pass rigorous tests first,” he said.

    “We don’t know if this will work the same way in everyone. We’re still dealing with very small numbers, although the initial findings are promising.”

    Ryan Straschnitzki of Airdrie, Alta., the Humboldt Broncos player who was paralyzed from the chest down when the Saskatchewan team’s bus crashed last April, has become friends with Gill through the Synaptic clinic.

    Gill has inspired the 19-year-old with his positivity.

    “He’s able to do things he couldn’t do before. It’s amazing,” said Straschnitzki.

    The executive director of Synaptic has seen a marked change in Gill’s abilities and has visited the medical facility in Thailand.

    “Given the nature of Richi’s injury, there was no sensory and no volitional movement below his level injuries. This has allowed Richi to regain some of that function and to be able to command voluntary movement below his level of injury,” says Uyen Nguyen.

    “This is not a cure. But from what we can see, this appears to be the most promising procedure for people with spinal cord injuries.”

    — Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

     

    Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press


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    Alberta

    As Hair Massacure Returns for Another Year, Here’s A Moving Look at How it Began

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  • On February 22, 2019, thousands of heads will be shaved in honour of the journey of sick children losing their hair due to chemotherapy.

    People will gather once again at the Toyota Mayfield Ice Palace at West Edmonton Mall to collectively shave their heads, raising money in support of Albertans facing cancer.

    The Hair Massacure is founded, supported and organized by The MacDonald Family, in honour of their daughter Kali, a childhood cancer survivor.

    The MacDonald family partners once again with the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada and supports Terry Fox Profyle, a Pediatric cancer research project.

    With the support of their partners, the family plans to scale Hair Massacure to the national level with the support of the Children’s Wish Foundation, continuing to raise funding for pediatric cancer research and for children with life threatening illnesses.

    Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada

    Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada is a 100% Canadian charity that grants the single-most heartfelt wishes of Canadian children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. Every wish is as unique as the child making it.  In Alberta and the NWT, we grant a Wish every three days and approve around 180 new Wishes each year. Wish referrals can be made by anyone who has a child in their lives between the ages of 3-17 and meets the medical criteria. Become a supporter of the largest Wish granting organization in Canada today!

    Terry Fox Profyle

    For the first time in Canadian history, more than 30 pediatric cancer research and funding organizations have joined forces through Terry Fox PROFYLE, a pan-Canadian project to give children, adolescents and young adults who are out of conventional treatment options another chance to beat their cancer. Short for PRecision Oncology For Young peopLE, the Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI) and these research and funding partners are working and fundraising together under a unique partnership that to date is providing a total of $16.4 million to molecularly profile the tumours of these patients, no matter where they live in Canada. For example, if Terry Fox had been diagnosed with cancer today, he would have been eligible for PROFYLE when the tumour returned and spread to his lungs. A $5-million investment by TFRI is the catalyst bringing together top scientists and clinicians, research centres, cancer charities and foundations at children’s hospitals across the country to create new hope for young people who need it the most.

    Video produced by Storyteller Productions .


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