Findings Show No Statistically Significant Link Between Talcum Powder And Ovarian Cancer

In a new study, researchers set out to prove whether or not there was a statistically significant risk of ovarian cancer from the use of talc-based powder.

here is not a statistically significant association between the use of powder in the genital area and risk for ovarian cancer, according to a new study published in JAMA Network.

In the past, many high-profile court cases have seen patients with ovarian cancer go back and forth with major manufactures of talc powder, like Johnson & Johnson, over whether or not their Baby Powder product was responsible for ovarian cancer risk that led to the cancer itself in some patients. This fear of talcum powder causing ovarian cancer comes from the fact that it is made from the mineral talc which in its natural form contains asbestos that is known to cause cancer along the lungs when inhaled. In 1976 the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association (CTFA) issued guidelines that all talc used in cosmetic products should be free of detectable amounts of asbestos, and talc use is no longer considered a carcinogenic.

According to the American Cancer Society, it is generally accepted that talc with asbestos in it can cause lung cancer when inhaled, but the information on asbestos-free talc is not as clear or accepted. Other study results have been mixed, or determined to be biased, in their answer of whether or not there is an association between talc and risk for ovarian cancer.

“Case-control studies have reported positive associations between use of powder in the genital area and ovarian cancer,” the researchers for this four-cohort study wrote. “However, these findings may be affected by recall bias, and a recent surge in talc-related lawsuits and media coverage has increased this possibility. Thus, it is crucial to evaluate the talc—ovarian cancer association using prospective data.”

Pooling data from the Nurse’s Health Study, Nurses’ Health Study II, Sister Study, and Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, researchers studied a total sample group of 252,745 women—38% of the participants self-reported their use of powder in the genital area, 10% reported long-term use and 22% reported frequent use of talc-based powder. From this sample group, 2,168 women developed ovarian cancer over the years of the study under investigation; however, of note, women with pre-existing ovarian cancer were excluded from the study to avoid recall basis.

When looking at the overall sample group, the estimated risk of ovarian cancer for women 70 years old unexposed to talcum powder was 1.16% compared to those exposed. The risk of ovarian cancer for women considered long-term users of talc powder compared to those that never used talc powder was .01% and frequent users' risk of ovarian cancer compared to the same control group was only .10%.

“There was no statistically significant association between self-reported use of powder in the genital area and risk of ovarian cancer,” researchers concluded. “There were no clear dose-response trends for duration and frequency of powder use in the genital area in relation to ovarian cancer risk.”

Researchers were willing to note that the study might have been underpowered, meaning it was still not large enough, to identify if there is a small increase in risk between the use of talc-based powder and ovarian cancer.