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Additional Diseases Linked to Talcum Powder

Regulatory agencies and studies link talc to mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. Other studies link talc to other potentially fatal diseases, including lung, uterine and cervical cancer, as well as some respiratory diseases.

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Research has linked talcum powder to mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. But some studies also found talc may also increase the risk of other cancers and respiratory problems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says talc with asbestos can cause cancer. It also says genital talcum powder use can “possibly” cause cancer.

Thousands of people that say talc caused mesothelioma or ovarian cancer filed lawsuits.

Studies suggest even talcum powder without asbestos may cause health problems.

Some evidence suggests that when talc enters the body it can stay for a long time. It can trigger chronic irritation or an inflammatory response that may lead to cancer or serious other diseases.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes talc may cause a response in the body that may develop into cancer.

The agency does not require talc products to carry warning labels that alert consumers of all the potential risks. The FDA says there is a lack of “conclusive evidence” that shows talc causes cancer.

Diseases other than mesothelioma and ovarian cancer linked to talcum powder use include:
  • Asbestos-related diseases
  • Lung cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Respiratory diseases

Asbestos and talc occur near each other on the earth’s surface. As a result, talc has been mined from deposits that also contain asbestos fibers.

Talc contaminated with asbestos may cause mesothelioma. But, it can also cause other asbestos-related diseases.

Did You Know?
When people inhale or swallow asbestos fibers, they can scar the lungs and cause respiratory diseases.

For example, asbestosis is a deadly lung disease with severe scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue. Pleural effusions are a buildup of excess fluid in the space between linings of the lungs, known as the pleural space.

Asbestos-related diseases other than mesothelioma include:
  • Asbestosis
  • Pleural Effusions
  • Pleural Plaques
  • Pleuritis
  • Diffuse Pleural Thickening
  • Atelectasis
  • COPD

Symptoms of asbestos-related diseases may not appear for 10 to 50 years after first exposure to the toxic substance and may differ depending on the type of asbestos-related condition.

Chest pain and shortness of breath are associated with many of the conditions. Other symptoms may include wheezing and tightness in the chest. Many treatments are palliative, meaning they are intended to ease symptoms of the condition, not cure it.

Talc and Lung Cancer

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Studies have suggested a link between talc and lung cancer risk, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report.

Inhaling particles of talc can cause chronic lung irritation, and chronic irritation can lead to cancer.

In 1993, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) published the results of talc studies in rats. The rats had cancerous and noncancerous tumors in their lungs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found some studies on talc miners and millers. Some studies show an increased risk of lung cancer with long-term exposure to talc. Other studies found no increase in risk.

Some people with early lung cancer may experience symptoms of the disease. But most lung cancers do not cause symptoms until they have spread.

Typically, doctors use a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy.

MRI of lung with cancer
Medical scan showing black masses of cancer in the lungs

Talc and Uterine Cancer

Perhaps the most common use of talcum powder is for intimate personal hygiene. Women who dust their private parts with talcum powder may be at an increased risk of developing uterine cancer, also called endometrial cancer.

Some experts say that talcum powder particles could travel through the vagina and into the uterus. Researchers have found talc particles in human ovarian tissue and human pelvic lymph nodes.

In 2010, Stalo Karageorgi and colleagues reported for the first time a link between genital (perineal) use of talcum powder and uterine cancer risk. They suggested talc could cause inflammation, which may lead to uterine cancer.

“Our results suggest that perineal talcum powder use increases the risk of endometrial cancer, particularly among postmenopausal women,” study authors said.

The 2010 study of 66,028 women found talcum powder use:
  • At least once in all women increased risk by 13 percent
  • At least once in postmenopausal women increased risk by 21 percent
  • At least once a week in postmenopausal women increased risk by 24 percent

Other studies have not found a link between talcum powder and uterine cancer. The American Cancer Society says more studies are needed.

Talc and Cervical Cancer

Cervical Cancer Illustration
Illustration showing Cervical Cancer

Researchers theorize that talc causes uterine and ovarian cancer by entering the vagina and making its way into the uterus and the ovaries. To get to there, talc has to pass through the cervix.

Scientists in Wales first discovered particles of talc embedded in cervical tumors in 1971. This has led to speculation that there is a link between the use of talcum powder and cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer starts in the cells lining the cervix, which is the lower, narrow part of the uterus. When doctors detect cervical cancer early, it is very treatable and patients have good survival rates.

Talc and Respiratory Diseases

Not all respiratory diseases linked to talc have to do with asbestos. Talc can be harmful if it is swallowed or inhaled.

When a person applies talcum powder, particles of talc enter into the air and become easy to breathe in.

Respiratory diseases linked to talc include:
Pulmonary talcosis
is acute or chronic lung irritation.
Pneumonia
is a lung infection that causes air sacs in one or both lungs to become inflamed.
Asthma
is a chronic disease that narrows the airways and limits airflow in and out of the lungs.

Inhaled talc particles can cause wheezing, fast and shallow breathing and coughing. Infants are most at risk of developing respiratory diseases.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and doctors who treat children advise against use of baby powders containing talc.

People exposed to talc regularly over time, such as talc miners and millers, may have a higher chance of developing respiratory diseases.

According to the CDC, some studies show an increased risk of respiratory diseases in people with long-term exposure to talc.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.

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16 Cited Research Articles

  1. CDC.gov. (2017, April 11). Worker Health Study Summaries. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/pgms/worknotify/talc.html
  2. National Toxicology Program. (1993, September). Toxicology and Carcinogenesis Studies of Talc in F344/N Rats and B6C3F1 Mice. Retrieved from https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/htdocs/lt_rpts/tr421.pdf
  3. Steenhuysen, J. (n.d.). Evidence on Talc Cancer Risk Differs for Jurors, Researchers. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/evidence-on-talc-cancer-risk-differs-for-jurors-researchers/
  4. Mazzone, PJ & et al. (2014, March). Lung Cancer. Retrieved from  http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/pulmonary/lung-cancer/
  5. American Cancer Society. (2016, February 22). Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/signs-and-symptoms.html
  6. CDC.gov. (2014, August 28). How Is Lung Cancer Diagnosed and Treated? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/diagnosis_treatment.htm
  7. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016, August 9). Uterine Cancer. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/uterinecancer.html
  8. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. (2010, May). Perineal Use of Talcum Powder and Endometrial Cancer Risk. Retrieved from http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/19/5/1269
  9. American Cancer Society. (2016, February 15). Signs and Symptoms of Uterine Sarcomas. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/uterine-sarcoma/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html
  10. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Treating Uterine Sarcoma. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/uterine-sarcoma/treating.html
  11. Womenshealth.gov. (2017, June 12). Lung Disease. Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/lung-disease
  12. Nguyen, T & et al. (2016). Pulmonary Talcosis in an Immunocompromised Patient. Retrieved from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/crim/2016/4678637/
  13. Rabin, RC. (2016, May 23). Lawsuits Over Baby Powder Raise Questions About Cancer Risk. Retrieved from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/05/23/lawsuits-over-baby-powder-raise-questions-about-cancer-risk/
  14. American Cancer Society. (2016, December 5). What is Cervical Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/about/what-is-cervical-cancer.html
  15. CDC.gov. (2017, May 18). Cervical Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/index.htm
  16. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). Talc. Retrieved https://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm293184.htm
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