Woke up this morning and saw this topic all over the news. A jury in US state of Missouri has ordered Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to pay $72m to the family of Jackie Fox from Alabama who died of ovarian cancer last year (aged 62) having used the talc for decades.
Ovarian cancer is one of the most common gynaecological cancers, The cause of the disease is not well understood, except that inherited mutations in the breast cancer genes BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 account for up to 10% of all cases while child-bearing, oral contraceptive use and breast-feeding reduce the risk. For years I have known that talcum powder may cause ovarian cancer. Even though the world has deemed the evidences 'inconclusive' but it is hard to dismiss the fact that talcum powder is even related to ovarian cancer in the first place.
How dangerous are things you buy over the counter? Even the ones made for babies, surely they are the safest? Based on a study done back in 1976, out of 20 body powders, baby powders, facial talcums, and also one pharmaceutical talc -- researchers analysed their mineralogical and chemical composition and found 10 of them contained detectable amounts of tremolite and anthophyllite which is part of the asbestos family while some also contained fragmented forms of these minerals (1).
In 1971, British researchers analysed 13 ovarian tumors under the microscope and found approximately 75% of them have talc embedded in them even though they can't find any traces of asbestos (2).
About 20 epidemiological studies have found increased rates of ovarian cancer risk for women using talc in the perineal region, though some studies have found no association (3).
At this point no research has established a causal association between perineal use of talc and ovarian cancer risk. I'm not a fan of talc and even though the talc in modern days are deemed 'asbestos free' and 'safe' as technology advances, I still wouldn't risk it.
1. Rohl AN, Langer AM, Selikoff IJ, Tordini A, Klimentidis R, Bowes DR, Skinner DL. Consumer talcums and powders: mineral and chemical characterization. J Toxicol Environ Health. 1976 Nov;2(2):255-84. PubMed PMID: 1011287.
2. Henderson WJ, Joslin CA, Turnbull AC, Griffiths K. Talc and carcinoma of the ovary and cervix. J Obstet Gynaecol Br Commonw. 1971 Mar;78(3):266-72. PubMed PMID: 5558843.
3. Langseth H, Hankinson SE, Siemiatycki J, Weiderpass E. Perineal use of talc and risk of ovarian cancer. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2008 Apr;62(4):358-60. doi: 10.1136/jech.2006.047894. Review. PubMed PMID: 18339830.
Staying healthy, keeping fit and staying within the normal weight range could be more important than you think. According to an analysis from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), postmenopausal women who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of invasive breast cancer than women of normal weight and breast cancer risk increases as a woman’s weight rises beyond obesity (1).
Researchers followed 67,142 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79 years enrolled from 1993 to 1998 across 40 US clinical centers. After a median of 13 years of follow-up through 2010, 3388 invasive breast cancers were observed.
The researchers then analysed the distribution of breast cancer among different weight classes and calculated the risks for women who were overweight (body mass index, or BMI, of 25 to 30), obese (BMI 30 to 35), or very obese (BMI over 35) compared with women of normal weight (BMI 25 or less). They found that the increased risk of developing breast cancer ranged from 17% in women who were overweight to 59% in those with a BMI over 35. Among women who began the study at a normal weight, those who gained at least 5% of their original weight had a 12% higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who maintained their original weight.
You can calculate your personal risk at the National Cancer Institute website,
1: Neuhouser ML, Aragaki AK, Prentice RL, Manson JE, Chlebowski R, Carty CL, Ochs-Balcom HM, Thomson CA, Caan BJ, Tinker LF, Urrutia RP, Knudtson J, Anderson GL. Overweight, Obesity, and Postmenopausal Invasive Breast Cancer Risk: A Secondary Analysis of the Women's Health Initiative Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA Oncol. 2015 Aug;1(5):611-21. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.1546. PubMed PMID: 26182172.
Is caffeinated coffee the miracle bullet?
An observational study published in Aug 2015 found colon cancer patients who regularly drink caffeinated coffee may be lowering their risk of colon cancer recurrence and death from the disease (1).
Havard researchers followed 950 people with Stage III colon cancer. The participants filled out questionnaires about their dietary patterns during chemotherapy, and then again six months after treatment was completed. The results show people who drank four or more cups of coffee per day were 42% less likely to have cancer return than non-coffee drinkers, and were 34% less likely to die from cancer or any other cause. These findings held up even after accounting for other foods that might impact disease progression, such as sugar-sweetened beverages and carbohydrates.
Researchers added that it's premature to tell patients to drink coffee to reduce their risk of the cancer's return as a randomized trial is needed to show cause and effect. However researchers are encouraged by the results. “Regular coffee intake has been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and it may be that through a similar mechanism, coffee may also improve outcomes for people with advanced colon cancer,” says Dr. Charles Fuchs, senior author on the paper.
1: Guercio BJ, Sato K, Niedzwiecki D, Ye X, Saltz LB, Mayer RJ, Mowat RB, Whittom, R, Hantel A, Benson A, Atienza D, Messino M, Kindler H, Venook A, Hu FB, Ogino S, Wu K, Willett WC, Giovannucci EL, Meyerhardt JA, Fuchs CS. Coffee Intake, Recurrence, and Mortality in Stage III Colon Cancer: Results From CALGB 89803 (Alliance). J Clin Oncol. 2015 Nov 1;33(31):3598-607. doi:10.1200/JCO.2015.61.5062. Epub 2015 Aug 17. PubMed PMID: 26282659; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4622099.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide with nearly 1.7 million diagnosed in 2012 according to World Cancer Research Fund International. A meta-analysis published in 2014 concluded that higher serum 25(OH)D concentrations (Vitamin D) were associated with lower fatality rates in patients with breast cancer. Patients with the highest concentration of 25(OH)D had approximately half the fatality rate compared to those with the lowest concentration (1)
In studies of cancer cells and of tumors in mice, vitamin D has been found to have several activities that might slow or prevent the development of cancer, including promoting cellular differentiation, decreasing cancer cell growth, stimulating cell death (apoptosis), and reducing tumor blood vessel formation (angiogenesis) (2)(3)
Another study conducted by Prof. Garland in 2011, which found that a 50 ng/ml level of 25-hydroxyvitamin D in the blood (a level that can be reached with an intake of 4,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day) reduces breast cancer risk by 50% (4). Although Prof. Garland says further research is needed to confirms the team's findings, he believes there is no reason why people should not increase their vitamin D intake now, after confirming with their health care provider that it is safe to do so.
1: Mohr SB, Gorham ED, Kim J, Hofflich H, Garland CF. Meta-analysis of vitamin D sufficiency for improving survival of patients with breast cancer. Anticancer Res. 2014 Mar;34(3):1163-6. PubMed PMID: 24596354.
2: Thorne J, Campbell MJ. The vitamin D receptor in cancer.
Proc Nutr Soc. 2008 May;67(2):115-27. doi: 10.1017/S0029665108006964. Review. PubMed PMID: 18412986.
3. Deeb KK, Trump DL, Johnson CS. Vitamin D signalling pathways in cancer: potential for anticancer therapeutics.
Nat Rev Cancer. 2007 Sep;7(9):684-700. Review. PubMed PMID: 17721433.
4. Mohr SB, Gorham ED, Alcaraz JE, Kane CJ, Macera CA, Parsons JK, Wingard DL,Garland CF. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and prevention of breast cancer: pooled analysis.
Anticancer Res. 2011 Sep;31(9):2939-48. Erratum in: Anticancer Res. 2011 Oct;31(10):3637. PubMed PMID: 21868542.
Dr Nicole Ng (MBBS) is a medical doctor with a passion in women's health and medical research