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Talc, body powder, and ovarian cancer: A summary of the epidemiologic evidence

  • Nicolas Wentzensen
    Correspondence
    Corresponding author at: Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, 9609 Medical Center Drive, Room 6E-448, Bethesda, MD 20892-9774, United States of America.
    Affiliations
    Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Rockville, MD, United States of America
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  • Katie M. O'Brien
    Affiliations
    Epidemiology Branch, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC, United States of America
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Published:August 06, 2021DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygyno.2021.07.032

      Highlights

      • Genital powder use shows a weak association with ovarian cancer risk.
      • The increase in absolute risk of ovarian cancer is very small.
      • Body powders have different ingredients that can be hard to quantify.
      • The causal mechanism underlying the observed associations is not clear.

      Abstract

      Many women apply powder to the genital area as a drying agent. Talc, an inert mineral with a high capacity to absorb water, has historically been a major component of body powders. Due to its similarity and co-occurrence with asbestos, the association of body powder/talc use and gynecological cancer risk, specifically ovarian cancer risk, has been a long-standing research question. Retrospective case-control studies have shown associations between genital powder use and ovarian cancer risk, with summary relative risk estimates from meta-analyses and pooled analyses ranging from 1.24 to 1.35 for ever versus never use. In contrast, prospective cohort studies have not shown a statistically significant association until recently, when a pooled analysis of four large cohorts demonstrated a weak, but statistically significant association among women with patent reproductive tracts (hazard ratio 1.13). Taken together, the epidemiological data from case-control studies and cohort studies suggest that there may be a small, positive association between genital powder use and ovarian cancer. The causal factors underlying this association are not clear. Proposed factors include talc, other minerals, such as asbestos or quartz, that are known carcinogens and may contaminate talc products, or other powder ingredients that could cause inflammation of the reproductive tracts. Given the rarity of ovarian cancer in the general population, the small increase in relative risk translates to a very low increase in absolute risk. Further research is needed to understand the underpinnings of the observed association between genital powder use and ovarian cancer risk.

      Keywords

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