Evidence suggests a link between talc use and ovarian cancer
Johnson & Johnson recently agreed to resolve over 1,000 talcum powder lawsuits by paying over $100 million, but they still face over 20,000 pending lawsuits. Many of the lawsuits claim that J&J knew or should have known for around half a century that their talc-based baby powder presented an ovarian cancer risk, yet failed to warn the public about it.
There is a long string of evidence going back to the early 1960s suggesting a link between talc and ovarian cancer:
The Transport of Carbon Particles in the Human Female Reproductive Tract was published in Fertility and Sterility, Volume 12, Issue 2, March–April 1961, pages 151-155.
This research showed that particles similar to talc can move from a woman’s external genitals into her ovaries.
Fibrous and Mineral Content of Cosmetic Talcum Products was published in the American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal, Volume 29, 1968 – Issue 4, pages 350-354.
This research analyzed 22 talcum products finding their fiber content averaged 19%. The researchers noted the presence of tremolite, anthophyllite and chrysotile. Tremolite and chrysotile are forms of asbestos and some forms of anthophyllite are considered asbestos.
Asbestos has been linked to cancer since the 1940s.
A followup study concluded that there was a “need for a regulatory standard for cosmetic talc” and recommended that “possible health hazards” associated with talc use be evaluated.
Talc and carcinoma of the ovary and cervix was published in The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Commonwealth, March 1971, Vol. 78, pages 266-272.
This research discovered talc particles “deeply embedded” in 10 ovarian tumors, 12 cervical tumors, a primary carcinoma of the endometrium and five ovaries from women with breast cancer.
Also in 1971, a J&J executive said its talc-based baby powder might contain asbestos, recommending to senior staff that J&J “upgrade” its talc quality control, according to a New York Times investigation.
An FDA-commissioned study found asbestos in over half of the samples of J&J’s baby powder he tested, according to the NYT investigation.
A J&J executive said J&J shouldn’t assume its talc mines don’t contain asbestos, saying their talc powder sometimes contained materials which “might be classified as asbestos fiber,” according to the NYT investigation.
Ovarian cancer and talc. A case‐control study is published in Cancer, Volume 50, Issue 2, pages 372-376.
This research found that talc applied to the female genital area around ovulation time leads to talc embedding itself deeply in ovaries, causing a reaction to a foreign body and growth of epithelial ovarian tissue. This research found that genital talc use produces a 92 percent increase in the risk of ovarian cancer.
“This provides some support for an association between talc and ovarian cancer hypothesized because of the similarity of ovarian cancer to mesotheliomas and the chemical relation of talc to asbestos, a known cause of mesotheliomas,” the study’s abstract concludes.
Talc and Ovarian Cancer is published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, October 14, 1983.
Researchers found a link between genital talc use and a 150 percent increase in the risk of ovarian cancer.
Personal and environmental characteristics related to epithelial ovarian cancer. II. Exposures to talcum powder, tobacco, alcohol, and coffee is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, December 1988.
This was a case control study of 188 women with ovarian cancer and 539 control women. The study found that over half of the cancer patients regularly applied talcum powder to their perineum before being diagnosed with cancer, finding a 40 percent increase in ovarian cancer risk associated with talcum powder use on the perineum as well as a positive dose-response relationship.
Risk factors for ovarian cancer: a case-control study is published in the British Journal of Cancer, October 1989.
This case control study examined 235 women with ovarian cancer and 451 controls, finding a 29 percent increase in ovarian cancer risk associated with genital talcum powder use more than one time per week.
A case-control study of borderline ovarian tumors: The influence of perineal exposure to talc is published in American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 130, Issue 2, August 1989, pages 390–394.
This case control study found an increased ovarian cancer risk associated with genital talc use after bathing. The study also found a 180 percent increase in ovarian cancer risk in women who used talc in combination with deodorizing powders on the perineum. The study found a positive dose-response relationship.
Mineral fiber exposure and the development of ovarian cancer is published in Gynecologic Oncology, Volume 45, Issue 1, April 1992, pages 20-25.
This case control study looked at 112 women with ovarian cancer and 224 age-matched controls, finding that applying talc to the lower abdomen and perineum for over three months increased one’s risk of ovarian cancer by 290 percent.
Perineal exposure to talc and ovarian cancer risk is published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, July 1992, pages 19-26.
This meta-analysis compared 235 women with ovarian cancer to 239 controls, concluding “a lifetime pattern of talc use may increase the risk for epithelial ovarian cancer.”
NTP Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Studies of Talc (CAS No. 14807-96-6)(Non-Asbestiform) in F344/N Rats and B6C3F1 Mice (Inhalation Studies) is published in National Toxicology Program, September 1993.
This study found evidence of talc’s carcinogenic activity in both male and female rats, concluding that talc is a carcinogen, with or without the presence of asbestos.
Reproductive and other factors and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer: an Australian case-control study. Survey of Women’s Health Study Group is published in International Journal of Cancer, September 15, 1995.
This case control study involved over 1,600 women and was the largest study of its kind to date. It found that using talc regularly in the abdomen or perineum region increased one’s risk of ovarian cancer by 27 percent.
A meta-analytical approach examining the potential relationship between talc exposure and ovarian cancer is published in Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology, April-June 1995.
This meta analysis found a 27 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer associated with genital talc use.
Women’s health concerns prompt condom makers to stop using talc is published in The Free Lance-Star, January 11, 1996.
This article notes that body powders containing talc have been linked to ovarian cancer.
Perineal powder exposure and the risk of ovarian cancer is published in American Journal of Epidemiology, March 1, 1997.
This case control study examined 313 women with ovarian cancer and 422 controls, finding that women applying talcum powder to their external genital area led to a 50 to 90 percent higher risk of ovarian cancer.
Perineal talc exposure and risk of ovarian carcinoma is published in Cancer, June 15, 1997.
This study found that applying talc to the perineum via sanitary napkins increases one’s risk of ovarian cancer by 42 percent. The study also found no such association with cornstarch-based baby powder.
Risk factors for familial and sporadic ovarian cancer among French Canadians: A case-control study is published in American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Volume 179, Issue 2, pages 403-410.
This study found that women who used talcum powder on their perineum saw a 149 percent increase in ovarian cancer risk.
Genital talc exposure and risk of ovarian cancer is published in International Journal of Cancer, May 5, 1999.
This case control study looked at 563 women with ovarian cancer and 523 controls, finding that using talc on the perineum raises one’s ovarian cancer risk by 60 percent.
“We conclude that there is a significant association between the use of talc in genital hygiene and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer that, when viewed in perspective of published data on this association, warrants more formal public health warnings,” the study concluded.
Factors related to inflammation of the ovarian epithelium and risk of ovarian cancer is published in Epidemiology, March 2000.
This study found that genital talc use led to a 50 percent increase in ovarian cancer risk, and that talc causes inflammation which contributes to cancer development.
Prospective Study of Talc Use and Ovarian Cancer is published in JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 92, Issue 3, 2 February 2000, pages 249–252.
This prospective cohort study found that applying talcum powder to the perineum leads to a 40 percent increase in invasive serious cancers.
Perineal application of cosmetic talc and risk of invasive epithelial ovarian cancer: a meta-analysis of 11,933 subjects from sixteen observational studies is published in Anticancer Research, March-April 2003.
This meta analysis found a 33 percent increase in ovarian cancer risk in talc users.
Perineal talc exposure and epithelial ovarian cancer risk in the Central Valley of California is published in International Journal of Cancer, November 10, 2004.
This case control study evaluated almost 1,400 women. The study found that genital talc use led to a 37 percent increase in ovarian cancer and a 77 percent increase in serious invasive ovarian cancer.
This study, too, found that cornstarch-based powder did not share this association.
Pycnogenol reduces talc-induced neoplastic transformation in human ovarian cell cultures is published in Phytotherapy Research: PTR, June 2007.
Researchers in this study successfully induced carcinogensis by applying talc to human epithelial and granulosa ovarian cancer cell lines.
Talc use, variants of the GSTM1, GSTT1, and NAT2 genes, and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer is published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, September 2008.
This study of over 3,000 women found that genital talc used led to a 36 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer and a 60 percent increased risk of serious, invasive ovarian cancer. The study found a strong, positive dose-response relationship.
“We believe that women should be advised not to use talcum powder in the genital area,” said the study’s lead author Margaret Gates, who noted that cornstarch is an alternative which hasn’t been shown to increase ovarian cancer risk.
Talcum powder, chronic pelvic inflammation and NSAIDs in relation to risk of epithelial ovarian cancer is published in International Journal of Cancer, January 1, 2008.
This case control study of over 3,000 women found that talc use on the perineum led to a 17 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer and a 21 percent increased risk of serious ovarian cancer.
Markers of inflammation and risk of ovarian cancer in Los Angeles County is published in International Journal of Cancer, March 15, 2009.
This case control study of over 1,200 found that genital talc use increased ovarian cancer risk by 53 percent and that women with the longest duration of and most frequent talc use saw their ovarian cancer risk increase by 108 percent.
Genital talc use and ovarian cancer: Influence of histologic type and menopausal status on strength and dose response of the association is published in Cancer Research 71.
This case control study of over 4,000 women found that applying talc-based body powders to the perineum led to a 200 to 300 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer, finding a strong dose-response relationship.
Genital powder exposure and the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer is published in Cancer Causes & Control, May 2011.
This case control study of over 2,000 women found that genital talc use led to a 27 percent increase in ovarian cancer risk.
Genital powder use and risk of ovarian cancer: a pooled analysis of 8,525 cases and 9,859 controls is published in Cancer Prevention Research, August 2013.
This pooled analysis of over 18,000 women found that genital talcum powder use was associated with a 20 to 30 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer.
“Because there are few modifiable risk factors for ovarian cancer, avoidance of genital powders may be a possible strategy to reduce ovarian cancer incidence,” the study concluded.
The FDA announced in March 2019 that they had found asbestos in talc products.
J&J then voluntarily recalled one lot of baby powder after a sample tested positive for asbestos.