There is no strong evidence of a link between baby powder and ovarian cancer, according to the largest study on the topic to date.
Looking at the results of four studies involving some 250,000 women in the United States who were periodically asked about their use of powder in the genital area, government researchers were not able to establish a strong link between ovarian cancer and talc-based powders. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Jan. 7.
“We found a small, but non-statistically significant, risk. We cannot establish causality. If there is a true association [between talc powder use and ovarian cancer], the increase would likely be very small,” study author Katie O’Brien, an epidemiologist with the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, told HealthDay. Cause and effect could be better determined by randomly assigning a large group of women to use talc powders over many years, and comparing the results with those who didn’t use powders, she told The Associated Press.
About 40 percent of women in the study said they used powder in their genital area. During 11 years of follow-up, about 2,168 women – less than 1 percent – developed ovarian cancer. Similar numbers were found in those who used powders and those who did not.
“This represents the best data we have on the topic,” added O’Brien to the AP.
Health concerns about talcum powders have prompted thousands of lawsuits by women in the U.S. who claimed asbestos in the powder caused their cancer. Talc is a mineral similar in structure to asbestos, which is known to cause cancer, and they are sometimes obtained from the same mines. The cosmetics industry in 1976 agreed to make sure its talc products do not contain detectable amounts of asbestos.
The U.S. lawsuits have targeted leading baby powder maker Johnson & Johnson. Although several juries have reached multimillion-dollar verdicts against the company, they have been overturned or are being appealed. J&J says its powder is routinely tested to ensure there’s no asbestos.
In December, following an October recall of a batch of baby powder after U.S. government testing found trace amounts of asbestos in a single bottle, the company reaffirmed in a statement its product “is safe and free of asbestos.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.