Thanks to a lot of high profile lawsuits being passed out by appeal courts, many people have very much heard about a viable connection between talcum powder and cancers particularly ovarian cancer. So given the entire buzz, is the powder actually bad in itself or is the whole situation just overhyped?

Most concerns about a possible connection between talcum powder and cancer have been focused on:

Whether people, who have been exposed to natural talc particles at work, or on the streets such as talc miners, are among the high-risk group for lung cancer from breathing them in or whether women who apply talcum powder on a regular in the genital area are also among the high-risk group for ovarian cancer.

It is somewhat unfortunate that the answer is still not totally clear.

What is Talcum Powder?

Talcum powder is gotten from talc, a mineral composed majorly of elements like silicon, magnesium, and oxygen. Many of us can testify that as a powder it does its job well by taking in moisture and reducing friction, making it one of the top shelf products for keeping the skin free from sweat and preventing rashes.

How Does a Baby Powder Cause Ovarian Cancer?

Well, baby powders and probably a lot of other cosmetic products usually contain talcum powder. It is generated from a naturally occurring mineral known as talc. In its natural form, talc contains asbestos (which was previously being used as electrical insulation for hotplate wiring and insulation of buildings) — a substance that can most certainly cause cancer after prolonged inhalation. However, the American Cancer Society (ACS) claims that talcum powder products sold in the United States have been free of asbestos since the 1970s.

When talking about baby powder that because ovarian cancer, I think we should distinguish between talcum powders that contain asbestos and those that are free from asbestos. Moreover as previously stated talcum powders that contain asbestos are more likely to cause cancer if inhaled.  Yet again, this would be lung cancer and not ovarian cancer, but if used in the genitals maybe there is a possibility of ovarian cancer. Therefore, Talcum powder that contains asbestos has been marked as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Based on not enough evidence from human studies of a connection to ovarian cancer, IARC also associates the perianal or genital use of talc-based body powder as probably carcinogenic to humans.

There is incontestable evidence that particles the size of talc, if present in the vagina,  has the possibility of reaching a woman’s upper genital tract or ovaries. These particles will then start an inflammatory response on cells located on the surface of the ovaries, or they may be phagocytized or eaten by immune cells which will then release materials capable of causing damage to the gene of the surrounding tissues.

On the bright side, an alternative to talc is corn-starch, already being used in several commercial baby powders and the good news according to the American Cancer Society, doesn’t cause cancer.

What Are The Symptoms Of Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer is not easily detected in the early stages. This is generally due to the fact that the ovaries are located deep in the abdominal cavity; these are two small almond-shaped organs. The following have been noticed by women with ovarian cancer as part of the signs and symptoms:

Bloating, abdominal or pelvic pain, feeling the need to urinate frequently or urgently, feeling full quickly while eating or trouble eating, fatigue or tiredness, heartburn or an upset stomach, back pain, pain during sex, constipation and menstrual changes.

If these symptoms are persistent, it is advisable for a woman to see a doctor as soon as possible, which is if the symptoms do not go away after usual interventions like a change in diet, exercise, laxative or rest. Persistence is the main point here because this signs and symptoms have been described as silent.

How Is Ovarian Cancer Treated?

Before diving into any particular treatment, there are many things that should be taken into consideration.

Deciding which treatment:

A Multidisciplinary (MDT) team which is a team of doctors and some other professionals decide which treatment is best for you.

The treatment you are likely to have will depend on:

  • Where your cancer is located
  • The growth or spread that is the stage of the cancer
  • Definitely the type of cancer which would have been previously determined
  • How abnormal the cells look under microscopic conditions/ the grade
  • In general your health and level of fitness

Your doctor will most certainly discuss your treatment benefits and possible side effects with your before any decision is made.

Main treatments:

The primary treatments for ovarian cancer are chemotherapy and surgery.

Virtually all women with ovarian cancer will need surgery, the number and type of surgery will depend on the type and stage of cancer. Majority of women with the early stage type of ovarian cancer, surgery is all they need but this is very rare because the majority of the case is caught at the advanced stages, and this group will need both surgery and chemotherapy which can be before or after the surgery or even both before and after the surgery.

There is a possibility of meeting other women going through a different treatment form yours, don’t worry because it may be that they have a different type of ovarian cancer or their cancer is at a different stage from yours, remember the treatment varies.

If I Have Used Talcum Powder Should I See A Gynecologist Near Me?

While we may not necessarily prove that talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer, there is a high chance that it may, but if you do not have any of the above symptoms, there is not cause for alarm. You can always just mention it to your doctor during your routine checks. If you do have any or all of the above symptoms, then it best to see your gynecologist but know that all those symptoms can also occur in some other abdominal pathology. There is definitely no harm in getting a second opinion from an oncologist (a cancer specialist).

The bottom line is there is no evidence as to whether or not consumer products containing talcum powder increase the risk of ovarian cancer but studies of the private use of talcum powder have had not so specific but somewhat mixed results. Although, there are some propositions that of a possible increase in the risk of ovarian cancer. There is very little evidence at this point that any other forms of cancer are connected with consumer use of talcum powder.

To the best of my knowledge, since there is no recognizable health benefit to using talcum powder maybe just a feeling of better hygiene until more facts are made available, I think people involved in the use of talcum powder may want to stay away or limit their use of products that contain it. It is also not always clear by the labeling on these products as to whether or not they have talcum powder. I would suggest more distinctive labeling on the products so that women can have more informed options.


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