Could Your Talcum Powder Cause Ovarian Cancer?

by Dr Jonathan D'Souza
Last month, a St. Louis jury reached a verdict requiring health giant Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million in damages to the family of an Alabama woman who died from ovarian cancer. Her cancer was allegedly caused by using the company’s Baby Powder and other products that contained talc for feminine hygiene.

The family of Jamie Fox was awarded $10 million in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages. Attorney James Onder said he most certainly expects Johnson & Johnson—the world’s biggest maker of healthcare products—to appeal the verdict.

After getting diagnosed with cancer, Fox joined a growing list of women who are suing the company for its failure to inform consumers of the dangers of using talc, which is commonly found in baby powder. Fox’s lawyers claimed that the company was aware of the possible risks of using products containing talc for feminine hygiene.

What Exactly Is Talc?
Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral composed of silicon, magnesium, and oxygen. As a powder it is useful in keeping the skin dry and helping prevent skin rashes as it absorbs moisture well and reduces friction. For this reason, it is commonly used in cosmetic products such as body and facial powder and baby powders.
In its natural form, some talc contains asbestos (a substance that could cause cancer in and around the lungs when inhaled). It is important to note that since the 1970s all talcum products used in the US are asbestos-free.

What Does Research Say About Talc & Ovarian Cancer?
Animal studies have found mixed results with asbestos-free talc, with some showing tumor formation and others not finding any. It is suggested that particles of talcum powder (when applied to the genital area or on sanitary napkins, diaphragms, or condoms) travel through the vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes to the ovary.
Clinical studies have found a possible link between talcum powder and cancer of the ovaries. However, these finding are mixed, with some studies showing an increased risk and others showing no increase at all.

What Do Expert Agencies Have To Say?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, a part of World Health Organization) classifies talc as 'carcinogenic' to humans; however, inhaled talc is 'not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans.' Based on the limited data available from human studies, IARC classifies the genital use of talc-based powder as 'possibly carcinogenic to human.' The US National Toxicology Program (NTP) has not fully reviewed talc (with or without asbestos) as a possible carcinogen.

Can I Reduce My Exposure To Talcum Powder?
There is little evidence linking talcum powder to an increased risk of cancer. However, until more information is available, people using products with talcum powder should consider using cornstarch-based cosmetic products instead. There is no evidence presently linking cornstarch powders with any form of cancer.

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