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.
Dr Nicole Ng (MBBS) is a medical doctor with a passion in women's health and medical research