Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer
Should women who use talcum powder be concerned about ovarian cancer risk?
Via Everyday Health: Talc, a mineral-based powder, is found in numerous products we use every day: cosmetic face powder, sanitary pads, and baby powders, to name a few. But some ovarian cancer research has noted a possible link between use of talc in the genital area and ovarian cancer. If you enjoy a sprinkle of talcum powder after a bath or shower, could you be putting yourself at risk for ovarian cancer?
Ovarian Cancer: Early Research on Talc
Before 1973, talc products contained asbestos, a naturally occurring substance in talc that is known to cause cancer. After that date, a law changed the way that talcum powder products were made, and asbestos had to be removed.
The possibility of asbestos contamination might explain why some cancers were associated with talc use, says Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of breast and gynecological cancer at the American Cancer Society. And because of this link between talc products and asbestos, and ultimately cancer, many people may still think talcum powder can cause cancer.
However, a much later study by Harvard University researchers showed only a slight risk for one unusual subtype of ovarian cancer associated with talcum powder use. About 80,000 women participated in an investigation by Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study to determine if there was still an association with talc and ovarian cancer. Although no real risk was discovered for the most common type of ovarian cancer, researchers found one for another type called serous ovarian cancer, a very rare form.
"If they looked at one particular type of ovarian cancer, which was not very common, there was a slight increase," Saslow says. And while it was a large, good study, there were limitations. For instance, "they didn’t look at how often they [the study participants] used talc," she says.
Overall, women in that study who used talc were 40 percent more likely to develop serous ovarian cancer.
Ovarian Cancer: More Research on Talc
The Nurses’ Health Study is thought to be the best and largest study on the relationship between talc and ovarian cancer, but a few other smaller studies do show a link.
Recently, researchers analyzed the data from 16 studies done on the subject. They found that women who used talc were at a 33 percent greater risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who did not — but how much talc they used or how frequently they used it did not affect their risk.
Another recent case report from Harvard Medical School discussed one woman who used talcum powder in her genital area daily for 30 years and developed ovarian cancer (of the serous subtype). A test found what appeared to be talc in the lymph nodes of her pelvis, which indicates that additional studies might be needed to confirm whether there is a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.
Ovarian Cancer: Is Talcum Powder Safe?
Since research hasn’t identified a strong connection between the use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer, there is no reason to stop using talc products altogether.
"There are no recommendations for women not to use talc," says Saslow. Even for those women who have used talc before 1973, “they should not be worried that they’re at increased risk."
For women who are concerned about the possibility of a link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder but still want to continue using a powder, there is an alternative: Switch to powders made with cornstarch, which has not been associated with any cancer.