Study: there is no important link between baby powder and cancer

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By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, January 7, 2020 (HealthDay News) – There has been a long debate, and a lot of lawsuits, about whether talcum containing baby powder plays a role in the development of some types of cancer.

It is not likely that a new large study will resolve the controversy in the short term.

The latest research included more than 250,000 women and failed to find a statistically significant connection between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.

But the author of the study, Katie O & # 39; Brien, an epidemiologist at the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. UU., He said the findings "are not definitive."

"We found a small, but not statistically significant, risk. We cannot establish causation. If there is a true association [between talc powder use and ovarian cancer], the increase would probably be very small, "he explained.

Talc is a mineral that is sometimes found naturally in areas that also contain asbestos. Asbestos is a known carcinogenic substance. But US manufacturers of talc cosmetic products agreed to ban asbestos in 1976, according to the study. Since that time, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has said that there is only "possible" evidence that talcum-based body powder genital use may be related to cancer.

The use of talcum powder has been linked to other types of cancer, such as mesothelioma. Mesothelioma affects the tissue that lines the lungs and other organs. A jury recently awarded a couple in California nearly $ 30 million from Johnson & Johnson for the wife's mesothelioma, according to a CNN report.

And last week, the state of New Mexico filed a lawsuit against the company, accusing it of deceiving consumers, especially children and black and Hispanic women, about the safety of its talc products.

The New Mexico lawsuit, the first filed by a state, is the latest in an avalanche of lawsuits against the consumer products giant. More than 16,800 other claims related to talc have been filed on behalf of individuals, according to The New York Times.

How could talcum powder cause ovarian cancer? The study authors explained that when women use talcum powder in their genital area, the dust can enter the body and irritate the tissue in the fallopian tubes or ovaries. This irritation could cause inflammation and begin a cascade of responses in the body that could contribute to the development of cancer.


But it is not easy to prove that talcum powder could lead to cancer with certainty. One of the reasons is that ovarian cancer is a rare cancer. In this large group of more than a quarter of a million women, ovarian cancers were found in just under 2,200 women, that is less than 1%. In addition, only 38% of women said they used dust in their genital area. Of these, only 10% reported long-term use and 22% reported frequent use.

Previous studies that found a link were "case control" studies. Dr. Dana Gossett, author of an editorial accompanying the study, explained that this type of study compared people who have a disease with people who do not.

"If you have given someone a devastating diagnosis, they are much more likely to report using all kinds of things. That is because they are looking for reasons why they have the condition they have. It is called memory bias," Gossett explained. adding that it is a known concern with that type of study.

This latest investigation, published on January 7 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, combined four different prospective studies. Those are studies that follow people over time, gathering information as they go along.

"This is the best study on this topic done to date," Gossett said. "They found no clear association with ovarian cancer with the use of genital dust at all."

He added that this study can provide some peace of mind to women who used powder regularly in the past. "This study is large enough and designed well enough that if there was a substantial risk, we would see it," Gossett said.

In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said: "Another study found that there is no statistically significant association between the use of talc for female hygiene and ovarian cancer. This study was based on data already collected on tens of thousands of women in a row. for many years and reaches a conclusion that is consistent with the more than 40 years of independent research and clinical evidence that supports talc safety. "

The study author, O & # 39; Brien, said the new research "does not provide firm evidence in one way or another" when it comes to the association between ovarian cancer and the use of talc in the genital area. He also noted that this study only analyzed ovarian cancer, so it cannot address the possible links between talcum powder and any other type of cancer.

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SOURCES: Katie O & # 39; Brien, Ph.D., epidemiologist and staff scientist, US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. UU., Research Triangle Park, N.C .; Dana Gossett, M.D., M.S.C.I., vice president, department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, University of California, San Francisco; January 3, 2020, company statement, Johnson & Johnson; January 7, 2020,Journal of the American Medical Association

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