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Can Talcum Powder Cause Ovarian Cancer?

Updated on November 18, 2015

We've Grown Up With Talcum Powder

For generations, mothers have used talcum powder on their babies' bottoms to ease the sting of diaper rash. Many people also put this sweet-smelling substance on their bodies after they showered. Sometimes women would even sprinkle talc on their under garments before wearing them.

Unfortunately, no one realized this practice could potentially lead to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

How can something as seemingly innocent as talcum powder, long associated with infants, children, hygiene and cleanliness, turn out to be a potential carcinogen? After all, most of us grew up with the stuff, and viewed it as a harmless way to promote good hygiene.

Through the years, it's also been heavily marketed, to the point where few people would consider equipping a nursery without talcum powder. Many parents automatically reach for the baby powder every time they change a diaper.

But just how dangerous is this practice? What's actually present in talcum powder that can help switch healthy cells into a cancerous ones? And, if there is a risk, why is talc still found in a wide range of personal care products?

Talcum Powder has been Marketed for Generations

Talcum powder is not safe.
Talcum powder is not safe. | Source

The First Alarms Were Sounded

In 1970, the prestigious British medical journal known as The Lancet published the first of a number of studies that have found an link between using talcum powder to dust the peritoneal area can later lead to malignancy. More research through the years supported this conclusion.

In 2003, a large retrospective study was done, looking at previously published findings. The conclusion reached was that regular use of talcum powder as a feminine hygiene product raised the overall risk of ovarian cancer by 33 percent. More recent British research showed this heightened incidence was 24 percent above normal.

Of course, even if you use talcum powder every day, you still have a relatively remote chance of developing ovarian cancer, which strikes about 14,000 women each year in the United States. Or, to put it another way, each woman has a 1.4 percent chance of developing this disease. If talcum powder is factored into the equation, her risk rises to 1.8 percent.

However, these figures mean absolutely nothing to the women currently battling the disease. If it happens to you, then hearing of this relatively small risk is little consolation.

What the American Cancer Society Says About Talcum Powder and Cancer

The American Cancer Society points out that talcum powder on the market is now free of asbestos, and have been since the 1970s. Unrefined talcum powder may contain asbestos. Some experts, however, believe that even asbestos-free talc can be dangerous if used by women for feminine hygiene purposes. The ACS claims that research of the cancer risk with the newer products on the market does not clearly show a risk, as study results have been mixed.

However, the ACS website noted that one study did find that talcum powder seemed to slightly increase a menopausal woman's risk of uterine cancer. The organization also mentioned the large study conducted in 2003 that did show a slight increase in ovarian cancer among regular talc users.

The conclusion arrived at by the ACS is that if one is concerned about a potential health risk, to stop using products containing talc.

Talcum Powder has Long Been Associated With Good Hygiene

Women should not use talcum body powder.
Women should not use talcum body powder. | Source

Is Cornstarch a Good Alternative to Talc?

Some people who've been concerned about talc have switched to body powder made from cornstarch, another material that's good at absorbing moisture. However, much of the corn grown in the United States comes from genetically modified crops, raising new concerns about this substitute. Ingestion of genetically modified corn has been linked to cancer in laboratory animals.

However, there are organic herbal body powders available that do not contain talc or cornstarch.

The First American Lawsuit

Patients who believe their ovarian cancer was caused by talc use have begun to file lawsuits. A number of legal firms around the country have also started reaching out to women suffering from ovarian cancer.

In 2013, in a landmark case known as Deane Berg vs. Johnson & Johnson, which was heard in federal court in Sioux City, the jury found that talc was indeed a a contributing cause in one case of ovarian cancer. Berg, who was 56 at the time of the trial, had used talcum for 30 years. One specific product known as Shower to Shower was mentioned in court.

However, Berg was not awarded damages, but did conclude that the public should be made aware of the potential cancer link, when using talcum-based products for feminine hygiene, according to another published report.

Although the connection between talcum powder and cancer is still controversial, the proof that this mineral is a causative factor is arrived at after studying samples of ovarian tissue. If particles of talc are found in the tumor, then it's generally agreed that this was one of the triggers. Talc was found in Berg's tissue samples, which were independently analyzed by three physicians, as it was reported in the local newspaper that covered the trial.

One of the doctors who testified stated that he believed that talcum powder is a contributing cause for about 10,000 of the ovarian cancer cases diagnosed each year in the United States.

Which Personal Care Products Contain Talc?

Body Powder
Makeup
Deodorant
Sanitary Napkins
Pharmaceuticals
Talc can still be found in body powders designed for men, women and children.
Liquid foundation designed for skin care and blemish coverage often contains talc.
Underarm deodorant often contains talc.
Scented or deodorant versions of sanitary pads may contain talc.
Talc is a common filler material in tablets, and is found in many prescription and non-prescription products.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Cancer Step Outside the Box

How it's Believed Talc Could Cause Cancer

Researchers familiar with the issue believe that talc can travel through a woman's reproductive system and lodge in her ovaries. Because it's difficult for a body to break down this foreign substance, the talc particles act as an irritant, eventually producing a malignancy.

It's known chronic inflammation can set the stage for cancer. Someone with chronically inflamed ovaries would be at heightened risk of developing an ovarian tumor.

Inhaled asbestos is known to be a causative factor in lung cancer. There's also evidence that talc miners have an increased incidence of this disease.

Talc is Still Used on Babies

Talcum is not safe for babies.
Talcum is not safe for babies. | Source

Talcum Powder in Products Today

Currently, the FDA does not ban talcum powder in cosmetics and other personal care products. It is even considered by the agency to be a Generally Recognized as Safe ingredient in some foods, such as table salt, as long as concentrations remain below a minimum level.

This regulatory body also does not require a special label required warning women of this potential hazard, especially if they use talc in the peritoneal region. There is also no language that specifically warns against using talc-containing baby powder to prevent diaper rash. This mineral, which contains magnesium, silicon and oxygen, has a unique ability to absorb moisture, which is why it is so frequently used on a baby's bottom.

Refined talc is now found in a wide range of products, such as paint, plastics, food and pharmaceuticals. It is a common binding agent in both prescription and over-the-counter medications. The word "talc," however, may not be appear on the label. Instead, it may be listed under its chemical name of magnesium silicate.

Disclaimer

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These products are not meant to diagnose‚ treat or cure any disease or medical condition.

Disclosure

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I knew nothing about this. Thanks for the valuable information and nice job of researching.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    This was a well researched and presented hub that people should definitely read. I had heard of this danger but did not know the details (e.g., the court case, multiple uses of talc). It is sad the court failed to award the plaintiff damages. Voted up +++, sharing and pinning.

  • Natashalh profile image

    Natasha 3 years ago from Hawaii

    When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, some relative gave me a girly set of bath products, including some scented talcum powder. My mom's an OBGYN, and I distinctly remember her telling me that it was bad and that it might cause cancer. It's probably not something most 8 or 9 year olds year from their moms! Anyway, I remember being pretty nervous about it after that and have never purchased any since then. Great hub!

  • vandynegl profile image

    vandynegl 3 years ago from Ohio Valley

    Good information!! I have heard about this before and it is important to get the word out. Although it is a small factor, just like almost everything out there these days can increase the risk of cancer, it is still important to be educated. Good research too!

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    I have never used Talcum powder however this information sounds useful and is well approached with such great thought. An interesting and informative hub.

  • awordlover profile image

    awordlover 3 years ago

    You hit a pet peeve for me. The use of talc irks me to no end. This is a really important issue for not only women,but for everyone. Women, especially those who slap themselves all over with talcum powder (perfumed or not) leaving the bathroom in a cloud of talc smoke, are exposing their cohabitants to respiratory dangers of talc when they walk into the just vacated bathroom, but also by breathing in the 3 or more layers of talcum powder that their cohabitant has on their bodies. So it is inside, outside, on cohabitants and in cohabitants and not necessary at all. More is not better, it's dangerous.

    There have been many warnings about this, from respiratory problems to reproductive organ damage and still we have it packaged in our products. The manufacturers need to replace talc with corn starch or some other medium so women can make good decisions about their product use and their health. And certain women need to learn how much is enough to use in the company or not in company of others. Along with tallow, various polysaturated oils, wax, formaldehyde and talc that are in our products, women are doomed if they don't start listening to and reading some of these warnings.

    The user is doomed as the primary host but so are their co-habitants by the second-hand syndrome; just because they live there, they don't stand a chance either. The cancer risk is high and the education is out there. We can't make everyone read it but we can sure try. Thank you for writing this article. It is very important that women (and some men) read this and know the dangers.

    Rachael

  • ologsinquito profile image
    Author

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi billybuc, FlourishAnyway, Natashain, vandynegl, DDE and awordlover, thank you all so much for reading. I agree that this information needs to get into the public domain, and that one lawsuit really helped. Even though the risk might be small, it's not small if it happens to you or to a loved one.

  • JayeWisdom profile image

    Jaye Denman 3 years ago from Deep South, USA

    I read about the dangers of talc when reports first surfaced; however, this was after my children were no longer babies and I'd used baby powder with talc for them. Even organic cornstarch baby powder (non-GMO) has dangers promotes yeast in the body, so I encourage my granddaughters to use natural non-talc, non-cornstarch baby powder for their little ones.

    A brand sold on Amazon that I'm personally familiar with is made by Perfectly Natural Soap (that's just the brand name) called Simply Baby Unscented, 3.5 ounces. It costs less than your example ($8.50) and gets much better customer reviews.

    Thanks for listing the other products that may contain talc and describing the dangers. I wasn't aware of these.

    Voted Up, Useful and Interesting

    Jaye

  • suzettenaples profile image

    Suzette Walker 3 years ago from Taos, NM

    What an interesting and informative hub! I have not heard of this until reading this article. I have not used a lot of talc during my life because it would cause me to have sneezing fits. I never would have thought of it as a cancer causing agent. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us. Voted up and shared.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    I had heard that talcum powder was dangerous but didn't know the details until I read your very informative hub. Thanks for sharing all the facts, ologsinquito. This is an important topic.

  • lisavanvorst profile image

    Lisa VanVorst 3 years ago from New Jersey

    Very informative hub, thanks for educating us.

  • ologsinquito profile image
    Author

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Alicia and lisa, I agree it's a very important topic. This information has been known for years, but apparently not enough people have heard about the dangers of talcum, as these products are still being sold.

  • Thelma Alberts profile image

    Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

    OMG! I have not heard about this. After reading this hub I went to my bathroom and found out that my perfumed body powder is made of talcum powder. Although I only used this for sweat prickles on my neck and shoulder during my stay in my home country Philippines, it still scares me. My best friend use this powder all her life. I have to tell her about this. Thanks for sharing this very informative hub. Voted up and shared in fb.

  • ologsinquito profile image
    Author

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Thelma, it's good that this information gets out, because people have the right to know. Thanks for reading.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

    I remember using talcum powder on my child way back when it was considered the best practice. Glad that he did not suffer from the use. Thanks for the information, so valuable!

  • ologsinquito profile image
    Author

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi teaches12345, thanks for reading. In many ways, we are very fortunate to have the Internet so all types of information can get out there.

  • Tolovaj profile image

    Tolovaj 3 years ago

    Talcum is powdered and every powdered substance can cause serious health problems. People dealing with stones, coal, glass and similar inert substances are always vulnerable, but it seems nobody is really interested in spreading the info.

    Another less known fact about talcum is it is widely used in food industry, for instance for making candy. Baby powder is not the only risk out there ...

    Thanks for informing people:)

  • ologsinquito profile image
    Author

    ologsinquito 3 years ago from USA

    Hi Tolovaj, thanks for reading. Talcum clearly should not be used in these consumer products. Or, at the very least, there should be warning label on them.

  • profile image

    edb 2 years ago

    Never heard of this til know my wife has ovarian stage 3 c every one needs to quit using this product I don't want anyone to deal with the pain she dealing with the doctors gave use the news yesterday THERE'S NO MORE THEY CAN DO

  • ologsinquito profile image
    Author

    ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

    Hi edb, I am so sorry to hear about your wife's illness. I will keep the two of you in my prayers. Please read some online testimonials about people who've healed themselves from "terminal" cancer. They are out there.

    Women definitely need to stop using these products.

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