Increasing medical evidence suggests that women should not use talcum powder as an intimate hygiene powder because of its link to ovarian cancer. Any woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer is urged to consider the possible link to talcum powder.
Although talcum powder is a staple in bathrooms and nurseries in the United States – and has been for generations – a connection between its use for intimate feminine hygiene and elevated ovarian cancer risk has suspected for decades. In fact, the first evidence of a possible association was cited in the early 1970s.
In 1971, scientists pointed to a possible connection between the dusting of female genitals with talcum powder and ovarian cancer. They believed that talc particles entered a woman’s reproductive tract through the vagina and traveled through the cervix into the uterus, then moved through the fallopian tubes to the ovaries.
Researchers detailed findings in The Lancelet journal that a majority of ovarian tumors had particles of talc deeply embedded in them.
That study was followed by another published in 1982 in the journal Cancer, which provided supporting research linking the powder and ovarian cancer. Since then, more than 20 studies showed similar cause-effect relationships.
Most recent is a June 2013 study published by the journal Cancer Prevention Research. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital reviewed data from eight research papers that involved nearly 2,000 women. Their analysis showed an increased risk of ovarian cancer of between 20 and 30 percent for women who used talcum powder for intimate personal hygiene.
This study confirmed the results of an earlier one published in the journal Anticancer Research in 2003, in which researchers concluded that use of talcum powder on female genitals increased risk of ovarian cancer by about 30 percent. Researchers drew that conclusion after analyzing data from 16 separate research papers.
Talc and Talcum Powder
Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral containing magnesium and silicon that is mined in rock form. These rocks are crushed, dried and milled into a fine powder marketed to absorb moisture and also to provide soft, slippery surfaces that reduce friction.
These easy-touch properties made it attractive to the personal care industry, which uses the powder as an ingredient in products that prevent skin irritation, chafing and body odors. They include baby powders, adult body powders, foot powders and intimate hygiene products.
Within the past couple decades, product lines evolved, and women became a target market. Manufacturers targeted them by pitching talcum powder as a way of staying cool, comfortable and free of vaginal odors.
It grew routine for women to dust their private parts, underwear and sanitary napkins with talcum powder, a practice now associated with cleanliness and freshness in the minds of many Americans. At times, talcum powder was also used with diaphragms for birth control and was once found in a number of condoms.
Johnson & Johnson Calls Evidence Inconclusive
Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, a major talcum powder manufacturer (Baby Powder), was aware of research that presents this serious side effect for its over-the-counter product. However, the company has referred to research into the matter as inconclusive and never has put a warning notice or label on its talcum powder products.
Lawsuit against Shower to Shower Powder
That omission was an impetus for a 2013 verdict handed down by a jury in a South Dakota product liability lawsuit. The talcum powder case was filed by a woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after 30 years of using the company’s talc containing Shower to Shower body powder. The jury found J&J failed to adequately warn consumers of the link between the use of its talcum powders for feminine hygiene and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.