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The talcum powder – ovarian cancer connection

Talcum powderBY AMBER SMITH

Talcum powder may increase by about 20 percent a woman‘s risk for developing ovarian cancer.

Chemicals in the powder, which some women use in the genital area to promote dryness, can ascend through the vagina into the genital tract and Fallopian tubes, providing a toxic exposure over time, says Upstate gynecologist Jennifer Makin, MD.

Jennifer Makin, MD (photo by Jim Howe)

Jennifer Makin, MD (photo by Jim Howe)

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies talcum powder as a possible carcinogen, she says, adding that case control studies have shown an association between talc and ovarian cancer. However, Makin notes, association has not been shown in any prospective studies, so there is no proof of causation.

Makin advises her patients not to use talcum powder for that reason. She also discourages the use of cornstarch powder because it can alter vaginal pH, or acidity, levels and prompt the growth of harmful bacteria.

“Using powder in the genital area is not recommended,” she says. “If moisture or odor is a problem, we can investigate those possible causes.”

Talc is a mineral made up of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. In its natural form, talc contains asbestos, a substance known to cause cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled, according to the American Cancer Society. Since the 1970s, household talcum products have been free of asbestos.

HealthLink on Air logoCancer Care magazine spring 2018 coverThis article appears in the spring 2018 issue of Cancer Care magazine. Click here for a podcast/radio interview with Makin about the possible dangers associated with talcum powder.