Study: No baby powder, cancer link
Federal government-led research finds no strong evidence linking product with ovarian cancer in large analysis.
Federal government-led research found no strong evidence linking baby powder with ovarian cancer in the largest analysis to look at the question.
The findings were called “overall reassuring” in an editorial published Tuesday with the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The analysis involving 250,000 women isn’t definitive but more conclusive research probably isn’t feasible because a dwindling number of women use powder for personal hygiene, the editorial said.
Health concerns about talcum powders have prompted thousands of U.S. lawsuits by women who claim asbestos in the powder caused their cancer. Talc is a mineral similar in structure to asbestos, which is a known human carcinogen, and they are sometimes obtained from the same mines. The cosmetics industry in 1976 agreed to make sure its talc products do not contain detectable amounts of asbestos.
Smaller studies investigating a possible link between talcum powder and cancer have had conflicting results.
The new analysis pooled results from four long-running studies involving 250,000 U.S. women, who were asked periodically about their use of powder in the genital area. About 40% said they did. During 11 years of follow-up, 2,168 women developed ovarian cancer, with similar numbers in those who used powders and those who didn’t.
These kinds of observational studies cannot determine cause and effect, and the study’s lead author Katie O’Brien said a more rigorous study would require randomly assigning a large group of women to use talc powders over many years and comparing the results with those who didn’t use powders.
The researchers found hints of a potentially small increased risk for cancer for women who had never had a hysterectomy or fallopian tube-tying surgery. The American Cancer Society’s Susan Gapstur said that fits with one theory for how genital use of talc might be risky: With a pathway not blocked by surgery, powder particles could potentially travel into the fallopian tubes and ovaries and cause irritation, inflammation and DNA damage that could lead to cancer.
The U.S. lawsuits have targeted leading baby powder maker Johnson & Johnson.
Although several juries have reached multimilliondollar verdicts against the company, they have been overturned or appealed. J&J says its powder is routinely tested to ensure there’s no asbestos.
J&J did recall a batch of baby powder in October after U.S. government testing found trace amounts of asbestos in a single bottle. The company paid for more testing by outside labs, which it said found no asbestos in the bottle and other samples.