Does Talcum Powder Cause Ovarian Cancer?

It’s been suggested that regular use of talcum powder products in the genital area might increase the possibility of ovarian cancer. In theory, particles of talc could travel through the reproductive tract to the ovaries and cause cancer. Research on this potential link has yielded mixed findings, with some studies finding a small increase in risk.

Panos Konstantinopoulos, MD
Panos Konstantinopoulos, MD

For example, a study published in 2013 led by investigators from Brigham and Women’s Hospital found a 25 percent increase in risk for women using talcum powder in the genital area, but other studies haven’t shown any elevated risk.

All of these studies suffer from incomplete data on patients’ family history of ovarian or breast cancer, as well as the duration and frequency of powder use, says Panos Konstantinopoulos, MD, PhD, of the Gynecologic Oncology Program in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber.

“In general, population-based studies have shown a statistically significant association with ovarian cancer risk, while hospital-based studies showed that this association is not statistically significant,” he says. In addition, none of the studies found that risk rose with increased exposure to the powder, and there is no evidence that talcum powder use on other parts of the body affects ovarian cancer risk.

“When I talk to my patients, I tell them the data are controversial, and that if such a risk exists, it is likely small to moderate,” says Konstantinopoulos.

He notes that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified talc-based body power as “possibly carcinogenic to human beings.”

“But at the same time, there are no official guidelines to avoid genital talc powder use as a way to prevent ovarian cancer,” Konstantinopoulos says.