Posts Tagged ‘Can talcum powder cause cancer’

Talcum Powder Can Provoke Deadly Ovarian Cancer

Friday, April 2nd, 2010
Talcum Powder Can Provoke Deadly Ovarian Cancer

CHICAGO, Illinois, May 16, 2008 (ENS) – What could be more benign than body powder, right? Some of Chicago’s most highly placed doctors would say, wrong. They are part of a coaltion of public health experts, medical doctors and consumers organizations that is petitioning the federal goverment for warning labels on cosmetic talcum powder products used by many women as part of their personal care regime – a warning that frequent use is linked to ovarian cancer.

The petition addresses Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt, and Commissioner of Food and Drugs Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D., a former director of the National Cancer Institute.

A talcum powder box is a common sight. (Photo credit unknown)

The group seeks labels with a warning such as, “Frequent application of talcum powder in the female genital area substantially increases the risk of ovarian cancer,” on all talc products.

The petitioners also seek a public hearing at which evidence can be presented that the genital application of talc can result in its translocation to the ovaries.

Ovarian cancer is known as particularly deadly because it is a silent cancer that shows few symptoms until it is well advanced.

Prevention is as easy as discontinuing the use of talcum powder, says lead petitioner Dr. Samuel Epstein, who chairs the Cancer Prevention Coalition, based in Chicago.

“As Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, former director of the National Cancer Institute, is aware,” said Dr. Epstein in a statement today, “the mortality of ovarian cancer for women over the age of 65, has escalated dramatically since 1975, by 13% for white and 47% for black women.

“There are about 15,300 deaths from ovarian cancer each year,” he said. “This makes it the fourth most common fatal cancer in women after colon, breast and lung.”

Talcum powder might be used after the bath and before dressing. (Photo of a woodblock print by Hashiguchi Goyo, 1920)

These figures are found in the National Cancer Institute’s own SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 2005, posted three years after publication, in 2008.

Dr. Epstein suggests substituting “cornstarch, a safe organic carbohydrate, for talcum powder products.”

Others, even women who have had a tubal ligation or hysterectomy, either of which prevents the transfer of talc from the perineum to the ovary, would not be affected by talc application, scientists have confirmed.

One of the studies cited by the petitioners even suggests that women may be dying from exposure to talc on condoms.

“Possible morbidity in women from talc on condoms,” C.S. Kasper and P.J. Chandler Jr. is the title of a letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association back in March 1995.

The term talc covers a wide range of natural rocks and minerals, most of which are magnesium silicates. Talc is characterized by softness, hydrophobic surface properties, chemical inertness and a slippery or soapy feeling.

The Citizen Petition is submitted on behalf of:

  • Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition, and Professor emeritus Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health;
  • Peter Orris, M.D., Professor and Chief of Service, University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center;
  • Quentin Young, M.D., Chairman, Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, Chicago;
  • Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., International Association for Humanitarian Medicine, Scientific Advisor to the International Institute of Concern for Public Health, Toronto, and the International Science Oversight Board of the Organic Consumers Association, Washington, D.C.; and
  • Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the Organic Consumers Association.

This is the second petition application from Dr. Epstein and the Cancer Prevention Coalition on the issue of the health risks of talc. The first, submitted in November 1994, did not succeed.

Still, Epstein says the scientific basis of the 1994 Petition has been admitted by the industry. In an August 12, 1982, article in the New York Times, Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer and retailer of talc dusting powder, stated it was aware of a publication which concluded that frequent genital application of talc was responsible for a three-fold increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Vintage powder box (Photo credit unknown)

The petition is supported by such heavywieghts as Peter Orris, M.D., Director of Health Hazard Evaluation, Cook County Hospital, and Professor of Medicine, University of Illinois Medical School, Chicago.

The petitioners point to an analysis of 16 pooled studies that confirmed a statistically significant 33 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer associated with the perineal use of talc.

Yet another report, this one by 19 scientists in eight nations under the auspices of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, concluded that there is a 30-60 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer following the perineal application of talc. This risk has been confirmed in two other research reports cited by the petitioners.

Commercial talc properties can be identified by their chemistry and mineralogy. Not all deposits are suited for all applications.

Some commercial talc may be harder than cosmetic talc because of the presence of impurities and associated minerals such as dolomite, calcite, tremolite and quartz.

Talc is a mineral that may be dangerous for another reason – asbestos, although this is not the subject of the petition. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances says, “Tremolite asbestos may occur in deposits of chrysotile, vermiculite, and talc.”

Another source suggests the possibility that some commercial talc products may contain asbestos.

“Some commercial talc may be harder because of the presence of impurities and associated minerals such as dolomite, calcite, tremolite and quartz,” says talc producer Specialty Minerals Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Minerals Technologies Inc.

Talc is used commercially in the automobile and appliance industries. Its resistance to heat, electricity and acids make it an ideal surface for lab counter tops and electrical switchboards. It is also a filler material for paints, rubber and insecticides.

Talcum powder and ovarian cancer

Friday, February 12th, 2010

EVERY now and then, I will receive a forwarded e-mail in my inbox, warning me about a domestic product or food that will “definitely cause cancer”!

Just the other day, I received one linking talcum powder to cancer. I have also had several patients ask me if it is true that talcum power can cause ovarian cancer.

The truth is, the scientific research in this area has produced sketchy results. Some studies have suggested a higher risk of ovarian cancer among women who use talcum powder in the genital area, although these studies cannot conclusively prove cause and effect.

But before we talk about the results of the research, let’s look at the components of talcum powder and how the link to cancer has come about.

What is talcum?

Talcum powder is produced from “talc”, a magnesium trisilicate mineral. In its natural form, this mineral may contain minute fibres that are very similar to asbestos. I am sure that all readers are familiar with asbestos, which is known to be a carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer).

Asbestos, which has been infamously used in paint, can cause lung cancer and mesotheliomas. Now widely acknowledged to be toxic, asbestos has been banned in many materials, including building and construction materials.

In 1973, the US Food and Drug Administration drafted a resolution to limit the amount of asbestos-like fibres in cosmetic-grade talc. However, no ruling has ever been made – so cosmetic-grade talc is still unregulated.

Before the readers jump to conclusions, however, we should remember that not necessarily every grain of talcum powder is carcinogenic – it depends on the level of asbestos-like fibres in the talc used.

Research on talcum powder and humans

Leaving aside the question of carcinogenic contents, let us cast a critical eye over the research results.

It has been suggested that talcum powder may lead to an increased risk of ovarian cancer, through the migration of talcum powder particles (applied to the genital area, sanitary napkins, diaphragms or condoms) through the vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes to the ovaries.

Several epidemiologic studies have been carried out to investigate this relationship. As I mentioned earlier, the results have been inconsistent. One case-control study published in 1997 found that the 300-odd women subjects with ovarian cancer were more likely to have applied talcum powder to their external genital area or used genital deodorant sprays. This suggests an association, although not a cause-and-effect.

Another prospective study published in 2000, which is considered to generally be the most informative study, found no effect on ovarian cancer overall. However, the study did discover that the use of talcum powder caused a 40% increased risk in one type of ovarian cancer – invasive serous cancer.

One large meta-analysis (a study that reanalyses data from many other studies) looked at results from 16 studies published prior to 2003. This analysis found a 33% increase in ovarian risk among talc users. However, women with the highest exposure to talc were at no greater risk than those with lower exposure, thus calling into question the validity of the so-called association.

A recent study has found an overall 37% increased risk among talc users, particularly among women who had not had a tubal ligation (a method of contraception that involves “tying” the fallopian tubes).

As you can see, all the studies described above provide different conclusions about the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. There is no study so far that can conclusively say that talcum powder CAUSES cancer.

What this means for you

The reason I am writing about this today is to clear up the misconceptions and fears surrounding this issue. It is all too easy to be alarmed and panicked when you receive a horror e-mail with “real-life” testimonies. The next thing you know, you are throwing all your bottles of body and facial powder into the garbage bin and vowing to boycott these products forever.

However, it is very important to understand the science behind it and evaluate the issue objectively. In this article, I have tried to demonstrate that just because there APPEARS to be an association, it does not necessarily equate to cause-and-effect.

The truth is, only a very small minority of women who have used talcum powder will ever develop ovarian cancer. More importantly, it is impossible to say how much talcum use had contributed to these cases – had these women used talcum powder on their genital area every day of their lives, or only occasionally? Nobody can answer that.

Until scientific research can give us better answers, it is up to the individual to make the decision for herself.

Certainly, a safer choice would be to avoid the regular use of talcum powder for genital hygiene, and to avoid dusting it on sanitary pads, condoms or other products that are used in contact with the genital area.

One alternative is to use corn starch-based powders that do not contain talc. Corn starch has not been linked to any form of cancer and is more readily broken down by the body, unlike talc.

Consult your paediatrician about whether it is safe to use baby talcum for your infants and young children.

Finally, it is always best to show the product to an expert – your family physician, gynaecologist or pharmacist – and ask for advice. There is no need to jump to your own conclusions based on an anonymous forwarded e-mail.

Talcum Powder Lawsuit Hotline – 1 (866) 952-1422

Attorney R. Allen Smith, Jr., of The Talc Litigation Group, filed the very first talcum ovarian cancer lawsuit on December 7, 2009. This talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuit seeks damages against several talcum powder mining companies, refiners, manufacturers and product distributors for continuing to manufacture, market, and sell a product that has been medically proven to cause cancers such as ovarian cancer. Talc Litigation Group offers a free talcum powder cancer case review and ovarian cancer screenings in all 50 states.

  • Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician & gynaecologist (FRCOG, UK). For further information, visit The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.