Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer


Diana Zuckerman, PhD, National Center for Health Research

A growing body of evidence suggests that using talc in the genital area can increase a woman’s chances of developing ovarian cancer. And the more years she uses talc, the more likely she is to develop ovarian cancer.

A study published in 2016 suggests that the body develops inflammation as a result of the talcum powder, and this is what can result in cancer years later. The authors of the study are from the prestigious Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and their study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The study compared approximately 2,041 women living in Massachusetts and New Hampshire who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and compared them to 1,578 women of the same age and geographic location.

The study found that the women who used talc in the genital area, whether or not they used it elsewhere in their body, were significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer. Most reported using Johnson & Johnson baby powder or Shower to Shower powder. Many body powders are now made with cornstarch instead of talc; women who used those powders but did not use talc were not considered talc users.

Overall, the women using talc were about 33% more likely to develop ovarian cancer. However, among women who were sterilized prior to menopause (underwent a tubal ligation or hysterectomy) or who took hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, using talc was even more likely to predict developing ovarian cancer.

The results of the 2016 study are consistent with the conclusions of the well-respected International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization. IARC found that there was an “unusually consistent” increased chance of developing ovarian cancer among women who reported using talcum powder in the genital area.

How big a risk is talc for developing ovarian cancer? Perhaps a better question is: why take the risk?

 

  1. 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 May 2016. 27(3): 334-346.
  2. IARC Monographs Volume 93, p. 412. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol93/mono93-8F.pdf