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Talc Powder Linked to Ovarian Cancer Risk


Results of a large study have confirmed what previous research has shown: women who use talc powder have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Unlike earlier studies, however, the latest research also provides evidence for a dose-response effect: the longer women use talc powder, the greater the risk of cancer.

Women should find an alternative to talc powder

In 2010, approximately 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer were diagnosed in the United States, and about 14,000 women died of the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. Among the risk factors that are believed to increase the chances a woman will develop ovarian cancer are a family history of the disease, inherited risk, use of hormone replacement therapy, use of fertility drugs, obesity, and the use of talc.

In this latest study, which was published as an abstract and presented at the American Association for Cancer Research, Daniel W. Cramer, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and his team evaluated data from a case-control study that involved more than 2,000 women who had ovarian cancer and a similar number of women who were cancer-free.

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The reference points for talc use were one year before diagnosis of ovarian cancer and use at the time of the interview for the control group. Adjustments were made for age, parity, use of oral contraceptives, tubal ligation, body mass index, smoking, use of alcohol, Jewish ethnicity, and family history of ovarian or breast cancer.

Cramer and his colleagues found that use of talc increased ovarian cancer risk by about 30 percent on average, but that the risk rose in certain women. “Premenopausal women with frequent use may have more than threefold increase in their risk for invasive serous cancer of the ovary,” noted Cramer.

According to Cramer, particles of talc have been found in the lymph nodes and other tissues of women who have ovarian cancer. It is possible that frequent use of talc and failure to clean it off may allow the powder to enter the lower genital tract and stimulate inflammation.

Although the exact role talc has in ovarian cancer is not known, Cramer has suggested that the powder may have an effect similar to that of asbestos and involve an increase in the number of molecules that predispose to chronic inflammation.

Based on this study and previous research, women who still use talc powder should consider alternatives. “I have always advised gynecologists, if they examine a woman and see that she is using talc in the vaginal area, tell her to stop,” noted Cramer.

National Cancer Institute
Vitonis AF et al. American Association for Cancer Research 2011 abstract LB-446