So, should YOU shun the product used by millions?
BRITAIN spends an estimated £17million a year on products containing talcum powder, with up to 40 per cent of women regularly using talc for hygiene purposes.
But should they be worried by suggestions its use is linked to ovarian cancer?
Talc is made from a soft mineral called hydrous magnesium silicate that is found throughout the world. It is crushed, dried and milled to produce powder used in cosmetic products.
Concerns over cancer were first raised in 1971 after researchers at the Welsh National School of Medicine found talc particles in samples taken from ovarian tumours. Subsequent research has suggested powder particles applied to the genital area can travel into a woman’s body and trigger inflammation that may in turn create an environment in which cancer cells can flourish.
A number of studies have shown a higher incidence of ovarian cancer among women who use talc for personal hygiene. Research published in January in the journal Epidemiology concluded that ovarian cancer risk rose by 42 per cent if women had applied talc to the genital area more than 3,600 times in their life – the equivalent of every day for 10 years.
However, the picture was complicated by the fact that the study found talc use was linked with some types of ovarian tumours but not others, for no obvious reason. Furthermore, Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at Cambridge University, said a higher incidence does not prove that talc actually caused the tumours. ‘There is an association – but association is not the same as causation,’ he said.
The research so far also relies on women recalling how often they used talc over a period of many years, said Professor Pharoah, who has acted as a paid adviser to one of the law firms representing defendants Johnson & Johnson.
While he acknowledges that inflammation can be a trigger for cancer and talc is made up of particles of mineral that can cause it, ‘we have no way of really knowing how often women used it or how much of the powder could have travelled into the ovaries’. He said: ‘The probability of talc use causing a woman’s cancer is small. I don’t think women who use talc have any need to worry and I don’t expect to see similar legal action in the UK because the courts here require a much higher level of proof.’
Dr Kavita Singh, a consultant gynaecologist at Spire Parkway Hospital in Solihull, Birmingham, said while there is no proof talc causes ovarian cancer, she recommends women avoid using it in intimate areas. There have been no concerns about using talc on other areas of the body.