Study shows there is a link between talcum powder and cancer

By Samantha Luiz
11 March 2015

Last month, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $72 million (R1,1 billion) to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to her use of the company’s talc-based products for 35 years.

Last month, pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $72 million (R1,1 billion) to the family of a woman whose death from ovarian cancer was linked to her use of the company’s talc-based products for 35 years.

Read more: Johnson & Johnson to pay R1,1 billion in damages for death linked to baby powder

After the ruling, the company expressed their disappointment at the outcome, saying "the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence."

A study undertaken at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston would suggest otherwise.

Researchers from the institution recruited 2 041 women with ovarian cancer and 2 100 without the illness.

They then asked the subjects about how how they used talcum powder, a product that's been known as a "bathroom staple" for generations.

Made from the mineral talc, the product is often used to absorb moisture and reduce friction.

According to the American Cancer Society, some talc contains asbestos, "a substance that has been linked to cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled."

After an investigation, the researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital found that talcum powder increased the risk of developing ovarian cancer by a third.

However, the risk was increased when the product is applied to the genital area, underwear or sanitary pads.

"Talc is a good drying agent, but women should know that if it's used repeatedly, it can get into the vagina and into their upper genital tract. And I think if they knew that, they wouldn’t use it," said Dr. Daniel Cramer, lead author of the study.

Also, this risk was dependent on the participant's weight, menopausal hormone use, and smoking habits.

Some experts remain unmoved by this study.

"This new study was not of the most rigorous possible design," said Dr Nicolas Wentzensen, head of the clinical epidemiology unit for the National Cancer Institute.

"While this recent analysis provides additional evidence supporting an association of talc and ovarian cancer, it will be important to test the methods used in this analysis in other data to see if the findings are confirmed."

Sources: cancer.org, medicaldaily.com, reuters.com

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