Talc & Ovarian Cancer

I have heard for many many years that the Talc in baby powder could possible be a cause of Ovarian Cancer in some women. When I found out that my mother was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in 2002, I researched some of the leading factors and one website mentioned that the Talc could be a factor in Ovarian Cancer. Does anyone know if this a true fact or not?

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Yes, it is a theory that using talcum powder in your genital area might be a cause of ovarian cancer. The thought is that the talcum powder enters the fallopian tubes and then on to the ovaries and that can be a possible cause of ovarian cancer. I cannot refer you to a specific article, but I have read that as an explanation.

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Article date: 2000/03/15
A number of past studies found an increased risk of ovarian cancer from talcum powder use, but these studies were considered inconclusive because of limitations in the way data were collected and analyzed. A new study, using data from Harvard University’s Nurses’ Health Study, finds no overall risk of ovarian cancer from talc use and only a modest increase in one type of the disease – invasive serous ovarian cancer.

"Talc is chemically similar to asbestos, which has been linked to ovarian cancer," said lead study author Dorota M. Gertig, MBBS, MHSc, ScD, senior research fellow at the Centre for Genetic Epidemiology, University of Melbourne, Australia. "Therefore, researchers have looked at the association between use of talc in the genital area and ovarian cancer."

Dr. Gertig and her colleagues used data on talc use prior to development of ovarian cancer, studying almost 80,000 women who responded to questions on talcum powder use in 1982 and were followed through 1996. The women were participants in the Nurses’ Health Study, a large, long-term study of 121,700 registered nurses in the US. The Australian researchers published their results in a recent issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Vol. 92, No. 3).

How the Study was Done

"We compared the incidence of ovarian cancer among women who had reported talc use and those who did not report talc use," Dr. Gertig said. "We also had information on other potential risk factors for ovarian cancer, such as never having had children, and we considered these factors in the analysis. One of the strengths of our study was that we asked women about use of talcum powder prior to development of ovarian cancer. In previous studies, women were asked about talc use after they developed ovarian cancer, and there was some concern that this may have biased the results."

Overall, the researchers found use of perineal talc was not associated with risk of ovarian cancer. This was true even for daily users of talcum powder. "However, we did find a modest increase in risk (about 40 percent) of a subtype of ovarian cancer," said Dr. Gertig. "Thus, there is a small possibility that using talcum powder in the genital area may increase the risk of a particular type of ovarian cancer."

Carmen Rodriguez, MD, MPH, senior epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society (ACS), calls the study "very well done," although it has limitations. "The researchers don’t know for how long and when the women used talcum powder," she said. "But one of this study’s strengths is the information on types of ovarian cancer. You would expect to find an increase in the serous type."

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I believe that the information in the 2000 article may be not be considered definitive wrt talc. I was contacted to participate in a newer, large longitudinal study in 2006 that includes questions about talc usage (as well as many detailed nutritional and lifestyle questions.) This study recruits both OC patients and a corresponding non-OC female from the patient's town and age demographic for participation. The study is feeding into the research being conducted by the Dana Farber Ovarian Cancer SPORE. This SPORE has an $11M government grant for some pretty extensive studies. Have a look at: http://spores.nci.nih.gov/current/ovarian/ovarian_docs/25-ov-cramer.ht ml

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What has been interesting to me about this issue is that it is perineal use of talc that may or may not correlate with OC. I had a discussion with my gynecologist about the use of talc by women in my generation to "dust" our diaphragms, keeping them fresh and keeping the rubber of the diaphragm flexible. He told me gynecologists haven't instructed their patients to use talc for that purpose for about thirty years!
Does anyone know whether the better known research on the alc/OC connection focussed on the use with diaphrams, which actually inserted the talc up against the cervical opening? I have thought that is at least one of the causes of my OC. I think a percentage of my cells were serous, but I don't have a copy of my path report where I'm wiriting this from.

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The link between talc and ovarian cancer has been around for a long time. At one time surgeon's gloves as well as general exam gloves were laced with talcum powder for ease in slipping them on. There was speculation that when the surgeon was operating, the talc would escape right into the open abdomen. And you can imagine how easily talc can get into the uterus when getting a pelvic exam. Many baby powders on the market now advertise "no talc", acknowledging the controversy. The last time I was in the doctor's office, I studied the glove box. Big letters read "powderless" gloves. So some people are taking the theory seriously.

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I really believe that talc is connected to ovarian cancer in some cases. I had no other risk factors except that I used talcum powder for hygenic purposes for years. I then developed ovarian cancer last year. I have done a lot of reading about this and there still is a lot of discussion about it. But, I do advise women not to use that stuff. Many things that cause cancer are often covered up for years by the manufacturing companies and government. Look at Agent Orange.
It's a shame that we are exposed to things every day and know little about the possibilities of them giving us cancer or other diseases in the future. I really feel that talcum powder should be taken off the market.

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Interesting caveat about talc. University of Florida researchers report that talc has the ability to stunt cancer growth by cutting the flow of blood to metastatic lung tumors. Their study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, reveals that talc stimulates healthy cells to produce endostatin, a hormone considered the magic bullet for treating metastatic lung cancer. The researchers say talc is an exciting new therapeutic agent for a cancer largely considered incurable.

When my wife was first treated for ovarian cancer back in 1972, she presented with DVT and pulmonary embolism associated with her malignancy. Persistent effusion showed malignant cells on thoracentesis. She had a total abdominal hysterectomy and pill-dose Chlorambucil (Leukeren) treatment. She had talc placed into the lung walls for them to adhere to the lining and keep them from collapsing.

Twenty-four years later, she developed a metastatic transdiaphragmatic tumor from the original cancer with attachment to the lung and other midline structures of the chest. Parts of those structures were surgically resected. I remember the throacic surgical oncologist telling me the talc oozed down to the bottom of the cavity and was as hard as rock. She had to literally use a hammer and chisle to clean it all out.

It seems that her twenty-four year ride without any recurrence gives the University of Florida study some credence. Would she have gone twenty-four years without this talc?

Even though they work for an academic institution, Dr. Antony is still having a hard time getting funding for the research. Here and there around the world, there are decisions still being made by folks who aren't in the pockets of American Big Business. Individual intelligence, integrity and curiosity. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope! I wouldn't doubt if the research money is not flowing because the treatment is so cheap. That is a shame. You can't patent talc.

SOURCE: University of Florida


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I have serous papillary ovarian cancer and did use a diaphragm many years ago and can't remember what I used to powder it with. I have alway worn powder of some kind but don't remember using it in the perineal area. This is very interesting.

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