Baby Powder Increases Ovarian Cancer Risk By 33% Lawsuit Claims.
Data on the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer is inconclusive. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified talcum powder as a possible carcinogen.
Doctor Mercola published an extensive piece on ‘The Talc Cover-Up’ which discussed studies linking the use of talcum powder in the genital area to the subsequent development of ovarian cancer in women. The Mercola piece quotes successful legal cases taken by women who claimed that use of Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder had contributed to the development of their ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer currently ranks as the seventh most commonly diagnosed cancer in women worldwide. The rates of ovarian cancer are highest in Eastern Central Europe.
Historically, the interest in the possible role of talc in the pathogenesis of ovarian cancer dates back to the 1960s when it was noted that some talcum powders contain asbestos.
In 1971 a study found particles compatible with talc in human ovarian and uterine cancers.
Earlier this year, colleagues from the Department of Cancer Epidemiology, Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, Florida, published an extensive review of the epidemiology (or causes) of ovarian cancer in the journal Cancer Biol Med. (5).
The paper reviewed all possible risk factors for developing ovarian carcinoma including:
genetic factors, hormonal factors (age at menarche, age at menopause, number of pregnancies, oral contraceptive use and lactation), gynecological conditions and procedures (hysterectomies, pelvic inflammatory disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and endometriosis) and lifestyle factors including asbestos/ talc powder exposures and cigarette smoking.
As such, this paper represents the most comprehensive, up-to-date overview of the link between ovarian cancer and talc that we currently have. The review article concluded that while the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer has been extensively studied, that the results are still inconsistent and inconclusive.
Specifically, a meta-analysis of 21 studies published in 2006 reported a 33% increase in the risk of ovarian cancer with genital exposure to talc (Langseth) but in 2014 the Women’s Health Initiative study noted no effect of talcum powder on the risk of ovarian cancer in 61,576 post-menopausal women (3).
There are also signals from the literature that any links between ovarian cancer and talc may be more complex than a simple exposure-disease relationship. Oestrogen and/or genetics may play an important role.
A retrospective case control study carried out by Cramer and colleagues, showed a 30% increased risk of ovarian cancer in talcum powder (1). This study found that the risk of ovarian cancer was particularly high in pre-menopausal women and in post-menopausal women who had used hormone replacement therapy suggesting that estrogens play a role in the association between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.
Additionally, genetic studies suggest that women with certain genetic features may have a higher risk of ovarian cancer associated with talc use (2).
Finally, the authors of the most recent overview paper comment on the fact that there are no animal/mechanistic studies which support a link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder exposure.
Overall the authors of the 2017 review of the literature agrees with the International Agency for Research on Cancer which classifies genital talc as ‘a possible carcinogen’ in humans.
In summary, claims that talcum powder increases the risk of ovarian cancer are misleading, and highlight the risks of drawing conlcusions from a single study as opposed to an in-depth analysis of data.
- Cramer DW, Vitonis AF, Terry KL, Welch WR, Titus LJ. The Association Between Talc Use and Ovarian Cancer: A Retrospective Case-Control Study in Two US States. Epidemiology. 2016 May;27(3):334-46. doi: 10.1097/EDE.
- Gates MA, Tworoger SS, Terry KL, Titus-Ernstoff L, Rosner B, De Vivo I, Cramer DW, Hankinson SE. Talc use, variants of the GSTM1, GSTT1, and NAT2 genes, and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2008 Sep;17(9):2436-44. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-08-0399.
- Houghton SC, Reeves KW, Hankinson SE, Crawford L, Lane D, Wactawski-Wende J, Thomson CA, Ockene JK, Sturgeon SR. Perineal powder use and risk of ovarian cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2014 Sep 10;106(9). pii: dju208. doi: 10.1093/jnci/dju208. Print 2014 Sep.
- Huncharek M, Geschwind JF, Kupelnick B. Perineal application of cosmetic talc and risk of invasive epithelial ovarian cancer: a meta-analysis of 11,933 subjects from sixteen observational studies. Anticancer Res. 2003 Mar-Apr;23(2C):1955-60.
- Reid BM, Permuth JB, Sellers TA Epidemiology of ovarian cancer: a review. Cancer Biol Med. 2017 Feb;14(1):9-32. doi: 10.20892/j.issn.2095-3941.2016.0084.