Recent high-profile court cases have raised concerns that women who use talc-based powder around their genital area may be at a risk for ovarian cancer, but a new study says that might not be the case.
The study, one of the largest on this topic to date, published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA. It found there was no statistically significant association between genital talc use and ovarian cancer. However, the study notes it may have been “underpowered” to identify a small increase in risk in part because there weren’t many cases of ovarian cancer among the women studied.
Researchers came to this conclusion looking at large number of patients, using pooled data from 252,745 US women with a median age of 57 years. Of those women, 38% said that they used powder in their genital area, 10% said they had been doing so for at least 20 years and 22% reported using it at least once a week.
Following up after about 11 years, 2,168 had developed ovarian cancer. That broke down to 61 cases per 100,000 person year’s among those who had ever used talc around their genital areas and 55 cases per 100,000 person years among those who didn’t.
The study says there’s a possible association between powder and ovarian cancer among women who had no history of hysterectomy or tubal ligation, but this “finding should be considered only exploratory and hypothesis generating.” If future research shows this association, there could be some truth to the hypothesis that the powder may be irritating or inflaming the reproductive tract. There is a relationship between pelvic inflammatory disease and ovarian cancer, but more research is needed to draw any conclusion about this possible connection.
This observational study has limitations. The way the groups assessed exposure and frequency of use varied, so it’s hard to know if there is a connection to how much a person uses the powder and ovarian cancer. The data didn’t capture what types of powder women used. All four sets of data included mostly white, well-educated women, half of whom had BMI less than 25, meaning they were not overweight, so it’s it’s not clear if this result can be generalized to other demographics.
“One thing this research clearly demonstrates is how difficult it is to tie down whether something like this is indeed a risk factor for cancer. Despite this being a good, competent, careful study involving over quarter of a million women, it still leaves room for doubt about the association, if there is one, between using powder in the genital area and ovarian cancer,”