According to the September issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, women need to think about using talcum powder. Talc, applied to the genital area, may significantly increase a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer. It may be even more risky if you have a family history of cancer.
Sixteen previous studies have found an association between genital talcum use and ovarian cancer. The current study is the first to analyze the association between genetic predisposition, and how a woman’s body responds to talc. The new study also found that the more you use, the greater the risk.
Study author, Margaret Gates, ScD, research fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston, Massachusetts believes “that women should be advised not to use talcum powder in the genital area, based on our results and previous evidence supporting an association between genital talc use and ovarian cancer risk.” However, if you simply must, she suggests using cornstarch, which has not been shown to have the same effect on the ovaries.
The researchers analyzed records for 1231 epithelial ovarian cancer cases, and 1244 controls from the New England Case Control (NECC) Study, in addition to 210 cases and 600 controls from the prospective Nurses' Health Study (NHS). Talc use, on a regular basis, was quantified as “once a week”.
The analysis found a 30% increase in the risk of ovarian cancer in women who used talc on a regular basis, in both studies. The authors write …”some studies have shown that inert particles can travel through the female genital tract to the fallopian tubes and ovaries, and others have found talc particles in ovarian tissue." The exact reason remains unclear, leaving other possibilities such as inflammation, antibody response, or accumulation of talc in the lymph nodes.
Michael Thun, MD, vice president of epidemiology and surveillance research at the American Cancer Society points out that, the Agency for Research on Cancer classifies talc as a “possible human carcinogen." No one knows if talc that is contaminant free carries the same risk. Common ingredients in talc include asbestos and quartz.
The authors concluded that though more research is needed, but talc “probably” does increase a woman’s chances of developing ovarian cancer. Dr. Thun advises, "Women who are concerned can avoid the use of talc in the genital area, but whether or not this will reduce the risk of ovarian cancer is unclear”, essentially saying it’s an individual choice.
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2008; 17:2436-2444
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