Talcum Powder Considered Possible Carcinogen By International Experts

Over the past year concerns have continued to mount about the link between talcum powder and cancer, with increasing evidence suggesting that use as a feminine hygiene powder may cause some women to develop ovarian cancer. However, a recent study suggests that some talc used by women should be reclassified as a cancer-causing agent.

There has been evidence suggesting the side effects of talcum powder may increase the risk of ovarian cancer for decades, but debate over use of products like Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower on women’s genitals has remained unsettled.

While the American Cancer Association (ACA) reports that the data on talcum powder overian cancer is inconclusive, and maintains that any potential risks are likely small, international experts have ruled that the talcum powder cancer issue is complex, with some forms of the powder defined as carcinogens and others only as “possible carcinogens.”

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Talcum powder or talc powder may cause women to develop ovarian cancer.

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The ratings come from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). While the IARC looked mostly in-depth at talc miners, the organization has also examined the risks to women.

“A case-control study has suggested an approximate doubling in relative risk for ovarian cancer among women with perineal use of talc, but the possibility of recall bias cannot be ruled out,” IARC concluded in a monograph on talcum powder cancer risks (PDF).

IARC has determined that some talc contains asbestos fibers, and when those fibers are present, it makes talcum powder carcinogenic to humans, specifically increasing the risk of lung cancer among miners as well as mesothelioma.

Asbestos Fibers Found in U.S. Talcum Powder Products

A recent study found asbestos fibers in talcum powder used by women, meaning that by the IARC’s determinations, that powder should be considered a cancer-causing agent.

In October, a study was published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, which indicated that an unnamed, but popular, brand of talcum powder may release inhalable asbestos fibers, which may have caused the death of at least one woman due to mesothelioma.

Researchers suggest that the problem is likely not limited to one brand of talcum powder, which are marketed by several companies as baby powders or after-shower body powders.

Neither the IARC nor the ACA appears to have yet factored in the findings of this most recent study, which could push talcum powder used by women into the known carcinogen category if confirmed.

Talcum Powder Cancer Concerns

Although talcum powder is most commonly associated with use on babies, as a means of soothing skin and preventing diaper rash, baby powder and other talcum body powders are also widely used by adult women for general hygiene purposes.

Application of the body powder to the female genitals has been associated with a potential risk of ovarian cancer, as it may migrate through the vagina to the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Several studies have found evidence of talc within some ovarian tumors among long-time users of the products.

In June 2013, a study published in the medical journal Cancer Prevention Research indicated that women who used genital powder containing talc may face a 20% to 30% higher risk of ovarian cancer than those who do not.

While the overall risk remains small, women have expressed concerns about why further research has not been done by the manufacturers and why warnings are still not provided by manufacturers about the possible health risks.

The only warnings provided with popular talcum powder products like Johnson’s Baby Powder indicate that users should avoid contact with the eyes and keep the powder away from the faces of children to avoid inhalation.

Dozens of Johnson’s Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower Body Powder lawsuits are now being pursued against Johnson & Johnson, all involving similar allegations that women may have avoided an ovarian cancer diagnosis if the manufacturer had provided warnings for consumers and the medical community.

In October 2013, a South Dakota jury found that sufficient evidence was presented during trial to establish a link between Johnson Shower-to-Shower body powder and ovarian cancer developed by a 56 year old woman who had used the product for several decades. During the trial, Harvard University’s Daniel Cramer testified that he has been looking into the links between talc and ovarian cancer for 30 years, and suggested that talcum powder may cause 10,000 cases of ovarian cancer every year.

A Baby Powder class action lawsuit was filed in California in April, seeking to force Johnson & Johnson to properly inform consumers about the potential health risks, including a significantly increased risk of ovarian cancer. Plaintiffs in that case allege that the manufacturer has known for decades about the risk of ovarian cancer, yet the only warnings indicate that users should avoid contact with eyes and keep the powder away from the faces of children to avoid inhalation.


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