No link between “baby powder” and ovarian cancer, according to a large synthesis of studies

Sometimes the lack of results is the most interesting result. A synthesis of studies published Tuesday and involving 250,000 women in the United States did not find a statistical link between the use of talc on the genitals and the risk of ovarian cancer.
Four out of ten women in the United States use or have used talc (“baby powder”) to absorb moisture and odors, either by direct application to the genitals, or by putting on an undergarment, a sanitary pad or a diaphragm. It is mainly the older generations that do this, but the practice persists among younger women.

In the 1970s, concern arose about the contamination of talc with asbestos, which is often similar in nature to the minerals used to make talc. Then studies showed a higher risk of ovarian cancer in talc users, who were suspected of being able to go up to the ovaries via the vagina and the uterus.

However, there was some doubt as to the reality of this link, since the number of studies conducted has been low in five decades, with statistically inconclusive results.

The effect is difficult to isolate, because ovarian cancers are rare: 1.3% of women are at risk of suffering it in their life.

Researchers from various research centers in the United States therefore produced a synthesis of four large cohort studies that followed a quarter of a million women in the United States from 1982 to 2017. These studies interview participants every one or two years on various health issues, including the use of talc or powder.

The hope, by increasing the size of the sample of participants, is to be able to detect with statistical validity weak effects which, on a smaller population, would not be detectable.

In total, of these 250,000 women followed for a median of 11 years, approximately 2,200 ovarian cancers have been reported.

The important result is that no statistical difference was observed between women who reported using talc and those who never used talc. Ditto when comparing the frequency or duration of use.

“There is no significant statistical association between the reported use of talc on the genitals and the risk of ovarian cancer,” write the authors of the analysis, published in the journal Jama.

In the United States, the Johnson & Johnson group has defended itself for thousands of thousands of complaints against its talcated products, accused of being carcinogenic. He was, for example, sentenced in 2018 to pay $ 4.7 billion to 22 women, a verdict challenged on appeal. In October, the company recalled a batch of baby talcum powder after health inspections discovered traces of asbestos.

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