Women using genital talc may be at an increased risk of ovarian cancer, a new study has found.
While debates about the links between the two have been around for decades, it is only recently that the discussions seem to reach its pinnacle. This is because a U.S. court recently ordered a talcum powder maker company to pay for damages to a family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer due, allegedly, to the years-long use of genital talc made by the firm.
"Multiple studies of ovarian cancer and genital talc use have led only to consensus about possible carcinogenicity," the authors write. This means that there have been no absolute data relating the two.
In the hopes of finding clarity, researchers embarked on a study that investigates the relationship between talc use and epithelial ovarian cancer.
The study involved 2,041 cases of ovarian cancer and 2,100 controls that have matched age and residence factors.
For the experiment, the authors defined genital talc use as the regular and direct application of talc to the genital or rectal area, underwear, tampons or sanitary napkins.
They also computed for the so-called "talc-years," which is derived by multiplying the number of talc applications per year to the total number of years that the participants use talc.
After computing the study data using different statistical methods, the authors found that the rate of association between talc exposure and outcome is 1.33, with an increased risk by talc-years.
The researchers also found that female talc users are more likely older, regular analgesic users, asthma patients and are heavier. None of these factors are said to confound the results.
Premenopausal women exhibit greater dose-responses, particularly those who do not smoke and are heavier. The same finding was also observed among postmenopausal women, who use menopausal hormones (HT).
The researchers were also able to identify different subtypes of ovarian cancer, which are more highly associated with talc use.
Overall, the investigators conclude that the risks of ovarian cancer depend on many different factors such as weight, HT use, smoking habits and menopausal state upon diagnosis.
The researchers then suggest that hormones such as estrogen and prolactin may contribute through the activity of immune cells called macrophage and inflammatory response to talc.
Talc is a form of magnesium silicate and has been around since early Arabic periods. The Americans and Europeans went into talc mining in the 19th century.
Aside from hygiene purposes, talc is also used to make paints, ceramic products and roofing materials. As talc survives in very hot temperatures, it can also maintain smooth surfaces in conveyor belts.
In the 20th century, people began using talc for hygienic purposes because it absorbs moisture and prevents friction.
Because talc deposits are commonly found near asbestos ore and the latter is known to have detrimental effects to health, people began questioning the safety of talc in the 1960s.
Although asbestos-free talc products were manufactured starting in the 1970s, questions about its ability to cause ovarian cancer remain.
Photo: Austin Kirk | Flickr