Talcum Powder Can Provoke Deadly Ovarian Cancer

CHICAGO, Illinois, May 15, 2008 (ENS) - What could be more benign than body powder, right? Some of Chicago's most highly placed doctors would say, wrong. They are part of a coaltion of public health experts, medical doctors and consumers organizations that is petitioning the federal goverment for warning labels on cosmetic talcum powder products used by many women as part of their personal care regime - a warning that frequent use is linked to ovarian cancer.

The petition addresses Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt, and Commissioner of Food and Drugs Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D., a former director of the National Cancer Institute.

A talcum powder box is a common sight. (Photo credit unknown)

The group seeks labels with a warning such as, "Frequent application of talcum powder in the female genital area substantially increases the risk of ovarian cancer," on all talc products.

The petitioners also seek a public hearing at which evidence can be presented that the genital application of talc can result in its translocation to the ovaries.

Ovarian cancer is known as particularly deadly because it is a silent cancer that shows few symptoms until it is well advanced.

Prevention is as easy as discontinuing the use of talcum powder, says lead petitioner Dr. Samuel Epstein, who chairs the Cancer Prevention Coalition, based in Chicago.

"As Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, former director of the National Cancer Institute, is aware," said Dr. Epstein in a statement today, "the mortality of ovarian cancer for women over the age of 65, has escalated dramatically since 1975, by 13% for white and 47% for black women.

"There are about 15,300 deaths from ovarian cancer each year," he said. "This makes it the fourth most common fatal cancer in women after colon, breast and lung."

Talcum powder might be used after the bath and before dressing. (Photo of a woodblock print by Hashiguchi Goyo, 1920)

These figures are found in the National Cancer Institute's own SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 2005, posted three years after publication, in 2008.

Dr. Epstein suggests substituting "cornstarch, a safe organic carbohydrate, for talcum powder products."

Others, even women who have had a tubal ligation or hysterectomy, either of which prevents the transfer of talc from the perineum to the ovary, would not be affected by talc application, scientists have confirmed.

One of the studies cited by the petitioners even suggests that women may be dying from exposure to talc on condoms.

"Possible morbidity in women from talc on condoms," C.S. Kasper and P.J. Chandler Jr. is the title of a letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association back in March 1995.

The term talc covers a wide range of natural rocks and minerals, most of which are magnesium silicates. Talc is characterized by softness, hydrophobic surface properties, chemical inertness and a slippery or soapy feeling.

The Citizen Petition is submitted on behalf of:

This is the second petition application from Dr. Epstein and the Cancer Prevention Coalition on the issue of the health risks of talc. The first, submitted in November 1994, did not succeed.

Still, Epstein says the scientific basis of the 1994 Petition has been admitted by the industry. In an August 12, 1982, article in the New York Times, Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer and retailer of talc dusting powder, stated it was aware of a publication which concluded that frequent genital application of talc was responsible for a three-fold increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Vintage powder box (Photo credit unknown)

The petition is supported by such heavywieghts as Peter Orris, M.D., Director of Health Hazard Evaluation, Cook County Hospital, and Professor of Medicine, University of Illinois Medical School, Chicago.

The petitioners point to an analysis of 16 pooled studies that confirmed a statistically significant 33 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer associated with the perineal use of talc.

Yet another report, this one by 19 scientists in eight nations under the auspices of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, concluded that there is a 30-60 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer following the perineal application of talc. This risk has been confirmed in two other research reports cited by the petitioners.

Commercial talc properties can be identified by their chemistry and mineralogy. Not all deposits are suited for all applications.

Some commercial talc may be harder than cosmetic talc because of the presence of impurities and associated minerals such as dolomite, calcite, tremolite and quartz.

Talc is a mineral that may be dangerous for another reason - asbestos, although this is not the subject of the petition. The federal Agency for Toxic Substances says, "Tremolite asbestos may occur in deposits of chrysotile, vermiculite, and talc."

Another source suggests the possibility that some commercial talc products may contain asbestos.

"Some commercial talc may be harder because of the presence of impurities and associated minerals such as dolomite, calcite, tremolite and quartz," says talc producer Specialty Minerals Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Minerals Technologies Inc.

Talc is used commercially in the automobile and appliance industries. Its resistance to heat, electricity and acids make it an ideal surface for lab counter tops and electrical switchboards. It is also a filler material for paints, rubber and insecticides.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.