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Health Care Providers Advise Caution When Using Talcum Powder

Aug 8, 2016

The use of talcum powder, especially for feminine hygiene, has raised safety questions in light of lawsuits and studies suggesting the product may increase the risk of certain cancers. Talc is commonly used in cosmetic products, such as blush, because it absorbs excess moisture and prevents caking. It is used in baby powder to prevent diaper rash and some women use it in their underwear or on their inner thighs. In an opinion piece published in the Irish Mirror, a dermatologist advised caution when using talcum powder.

Talcum powder litigation has drawn more attention in light of two large verdicts issued this year. A jury awarded $72 million to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer, allegedly caused by use of talcum powder in the genital region. In April, another $55 million verdict was awarded to the plaintiff. These lawsuits, along with others filed over talcum powder, allege that the fine particles in the powder travel up through the fallopian tubes and into the ovaries, increasing the risk of ovarian cancer. Manufacturers, such as Johnson & Johnson, are accused of knowing about these risks, but failing to warn consumers. Plaintiffs in the litigation allege that the products were marketed as safe to use despite known studies showing a link to cancer.

In 1982, researchers led by Dr. Daniel W. Cramer published a study showing that the risk of ovarian cancer was doubled in women who used talcum powder compared to those who did not. The risk was increased three-fold among those who used the products on their genitals and on sanitary pads. The study compared a group of 215 women with ovarian cancer and a control group of 215 healthy women. Another study published in 1991 found that ovarian and cervical cancers contained talc particles.

In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified talcum powder as a possible human carcinogen if used in the female genital region.

The mechanism behind which talcum powder may increase the risk of cancer is unclear, since the disease may be affected by a number of factors such as genes, lifestyle, and environment. According to the Irish Mirror article, studies have shown that talc crystals may reach the ovaries by traveling through the genitourinary tract and into the peritoneal cavity. The article states that talc particles may also trigger inflammation, which is key to the development of cancer.

The article states that some pediatricians and dermatologists are advising against using talcum powder on babies, who may develop respiratory problems by breathing in the fine particles.

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