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Is there a link between talcum powder use and cancer?

Recently, concerns have been raised about a possible connection between the use of talcum powder and cancer. The main focus has been on whether women who used talcum powder on their genitalia were at higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

While talcum powder products for consumers contained asbestos in the past, they have been asbestos-free since the 1970s. Scientists study animals in laboratory settings and perform other experiments to determine if a substance is a carcinogen. They also examine the cancer rates of people in different categories, some of whom were exposed to the potentially cancer-causing substance and some who were not. This type of study can yield indeterminate results due to the number of other factors that come into play with a cancer diagnosis.

Studies attempting to link the use of talcum powder on the genitals with ovarian cancer have yielded mixed results. There is a possible indication of a slightly higher cancer rate, but this is based on memories of talc use over prior decades. Other research failed to find a causal link.

Still another study discovered a slightly higher risk of uterine cancer in post-menopausal women with a history of using talcum powder in the genital area. Subsequent studies found no correlation.

The section of the World Health Organization tasked with identifying cancer-causing agents, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified using talcum powder in the genital area as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." This classification was based on scant human studies evidence linking the two.

It is possible that, with further research, a more definitive link will be discovered between talc use and female cancers. However, no product recalls are planned at this time. Women may decide to avoid using talcum powder on their genitals if they want to limit potential exposures.

An attorney who handles asbestos cases is a good source of information about environmental exposures to known carcinogens and elevated risk of cancer.

Source: American Cancer Society, "Talcum Powder and Cancer," accessed Aug. 21, 2015

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