Can Talcum Powder Cause Cancer?
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The potential cancer risk associated with using talcum powder has been the subject of many studies and much debate over the years. The issue is back in the news following three court decisions.
This week, a St. Louis jury awarded more than million in damages to a California woman who said that she developed ovarian cancer from using manufacturer Johnson &Johnson'stalc-powderproducts.Earlierthisyear,twoothercourtcasesinvolvingapossiblelinkbetweentalcuseandcancerresultedinthecompanybeingorderedtopaymillionandmillionindamages.Another 1,700similarcasesarereportedlypendingnationwide.
Concernsabouttalc’ssafetyhavebeenfueledbythefactthat,initsnaturalstate,itcancontainasbestos — aknowncarcinogen.
“Thelinkbetweentalcandovariancancerisbasedontwofacts,”saysPhilipLandrigan,MD,deanforglobalhealthandprofessorofpreventivemedicineandpediatricsattheIcahnSchoolofMedicineatMountSinaiinNewYorkCity.“Muchtalccontainsasbestos-likefibers; and asbestos has been determined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer arm of the World Health Organization, to be a definite cause of ovarian cancer.” Dr. Landrigan was a member of the IARC Working Group that made this determination and published its findings in 2011.
In a study conducted between 2009 and 2010, the FDA found no traces of asbestos in any cosmetic products tested, including J&J's Baby Powder. But the FDA points out that the study was limited to 34 products, so the results themselves “do not prove that most or all talc or talc-containing cosmetic products … are likely to be free of asbestos contamination.” A list of the products tested is available on the FDA website.
Speculation that talcum powder may be associated with ovarian cancer dates back to the 1960s. Some researchers believe that talc applied to the genitals could reach the ovaries and trigger an inflammatory response — similar to the effect asbestos has in the lungs. According to a study published in 1999 in theInternational Journal of Cancer,avoidance of talc in genital hygiene might reduce the risk for ovarian cancer by at least 10 percent.
A 2010 analysis by the IARC found “limited evidence” that talc-based body powder could be carcinogenic to humans. While some of the studies reviewed found “a modest, but unusually consistent, excess in risk,” others “did not provide support for an association between talc use and ovarian cancer.” For that reason, the IARC classifies perineal, or genital, use of talc as “possibly carcinogenic.”
If you’re concerned about using products containing talc, then the best protection is to limit your exposure. As the American Cancer Society suggests, cornstarch-based cosmetic products may be a safe option since “there is no evidence at this time linking cornstarch powders with any form of cancer.”
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Video: Talc On Trial | NBC News
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