Analysis Finds Link Between Talc Powders, Ovarian Cancer
WebMD News Archive
April 11, 2000 (Atlanta) -- For many women, a dusting of powder helps
freshen the vaginal area. But a new study suggests that women should read the
labels of so-called "talcum" feminine and bath powders closely.
Cornstarch-based products may be better choices.
The study shows that powders can migrate from the vaginal area to the
ovaries, and -- if the powder contains talc -- could slightly increase a
woman's risk of ovarian cancer.
Slightly is the key word here. "Exposure to talc is unlikely to be a
primary factor in most cases of ovarian cancer," writes John Whysner, MD,
PhD, a researcher with the American Health Foundation in Valhalla, N.Y. He says
there is not enough information to clearly say whether there is a causal
relationship. Whysner reviewed over 50 papers on the subject, written over the
past 30 years, for the analysis published in the American Journal of
Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Talc is a mineral compound that is similar to asbestos; the two minerals are
often found together in geological formations. In the past, some talc powders
have been found to contain asbestos, but quality assurance programs have now
minimized this contamination. The modest association between ovarian cancer and
talc exposure found in some studies has been attributed to asbestos
contamination, Whysner says.
Cornstarch, in comparison, is a food substance found in the corn kernel.
Because of cornstarch's chemical nature, it is biologically implausible for it
to cause cancer, he adds.
Whysner's review includes studies of more than 2,000 women with ovarian
cancer who had used talc- and/or cornstarch-based products in the vaginal area.
Some used the powder to dust sanitary napkins as well; some stored diaphragms
or condoms in the powder.
Whether these powders can move through the fallopian tubes to the ovaries,
where they might play a role in causing ovarian tumors, has been debated. In
some studies, tubal ligation (having the tubes "tied") was linked with
a decrease in the risk of ovarian cancer, Whysner writes.
"The risk for ovarian cancer was highest among women who used talc and
had not undergone surgical sterilization," he says. He cites many studies
in which the migration of particles through the fallopian tubes has been
demonstrated. Both talc and asbestos have been found in human ovarian
Whysner writes that most studies have found that an increased risk for
ovarian cancer is associated with exposure to talc power. "None [has] found
an increased risk associated with ... cornstarch powders," he says.
Charles J. Dunton, MD, a professor of gynecology and oncology at Jefferson
Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, tells WebMD,
"There's not a cause for women to get overly upset if they've used talc in
the past. The association is not that strong, and besides, it's all statistics,
and there might be ... factors that cause the statistics to be