Published: Thu, January 09, 2020
Medical | By

No link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, finds major study

No link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, finds major study

"Women should feel reassured by this study", says Dana R. Gossett, MD, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and pediatric gynecology at the University of California in San Francisco, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study but was not involved in the research.

"Among women from 4 prospective cohorts, there was not a statistically significant association between use of powder in the genital area and ovarian cancer, but the study may have been underpowered to identify a small increase in risk", the authors said.

For decades, some women have used talcum powder for genital hygiene to absorb odor and moisture - either through direct application or via underwear, sanitary pads, tampons or diaphragms. The incidence of ovarian cancer was 61 cases per 100,000 person-years for ever-users and 55 cases per 100,000 person-years for never-users (estimated risk difference at 70 years, 0.09%; estimated hazard ratio [HR], 1.08). Moreover, there was no link between higher doses or more frequent use of powder and ovarian cancer.

The study is reassuring, although the researchers point out that as ovarian cancer is quite rare, they can not rule out a very small increase in risk even with a large study. But, it was reported roughly similar numbers in those who didn't use powders on genital areas and those who did. The researchers found no statistically significant association between powder use and ovarian cancer. Talc or talcum powder, according to the American Cancer Society, is made from magnesium, silicon, and oxygen.

In 2006, the International Agency for Research in Cancer classified the use of talc in the genital region as "possibly carcinogenic to humans".

This makes it impossible to tell how numerous women have used non-talc products, such as cornstarch-based powder, that may destroy a link between talc and ovarian cancer.

Four in ten USA women say they have used the powder, either through direct application or via underwear, sanitary pads or a diaphragm.


There are also inherent limitations associated with so-called observational studies of the population at large - as opposed to controlled clinical trials for drugs - including failure to account for all possible external factors. This is the first time a state has brought a suit against the company.

During the eleven-year follow-up period, 2,168 women developed ovarian cancer, approximately the same number of those who used powders and those who did not.

Do not miss out on the latest news. The company recalled 33,000 bottles of its baby powder in October when the FDA reported it found trace amounts of chrysotile asbestos in a bottle purchased online. Johnson & Johnson later reviewed the same bottle and said tests came back negative. Factsabouttalc.com touts the safety of the mineral and its uses in various Johnson & Johnson products.

The new study aimed to address the disparities in previous research.

"It's not great data", admitted study author O'Brien.

"I'm not a woman, so can't have concerns about my own health in these respects - but if I were a woman, this wouldn't be high on my list of worries". A recent lawsuit regarding ovarian cancer brought against the company in St. Louis resulted in a court ruling in favor of the company.

U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson in Trenton, New Jersey, is overseeing a consolidation of more than 12,000 baby powder cases filed in federal courts across the U.S. Wolfson must decide whether experts hired by the women suing J&J used reliable methods to conclude the company's talc-based products contained asbestos, and that exposure could have caused their ovarian cancers. As a response Johnson & Johnson issued the following statement: "This is the fourth consecutive verdict in favor of Johnson & Johnson in these cases and the eighth defense verdict this year". "Future analyses would be strengthened by focusing on women with intact reproductive tracts, with particular attention to timing and duration of exposure to powder in the genital area".

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