Powder use ‘not significantly linked to ovarian cancer’

There is no significant link between using powder in the genital area and ovarian cancer, new research suggests.

Scientists analysed pooled data using information from 252,745 women, 38% of whom self-reported use of the product in the area.

Of the sample, taken from four cohort studies in the US, 2,168 women developed incident ovarian cancer.

Most of the women from two of the cohorts were born between 1915 and 1944, and those from the other two were born in 1945 or later.

Researchers found that there appeared to be a generational trend in use of powder in the genital area, with women born earlier more likely to report such use.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the authors said: “In this analysis of pooled data from women in four US cohorts, there was not a statistically significant association between use of powder in the genital area and incident ovarian cancer.

“However, the study may have been underpowered to identify a small increase in risk.”

The women were asked about how they used the powder – including talcum, baby and deodorising powder – and how often.

They were then categorised as “ever” versus “never” users of powder on genital areas.

Dr Katie O’Brien, of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, said: “Considering all four cohorts, the estimated incidence of ovarian cancer was 61 per 100,000 person-years among ‘ever’ users, and 55 among ‘never’ users.”

The researchers highlight a number of limitations including that the included cohorts varied widely in how they assessed exposure, and that specific exposure could not examined.

Professor Iain McNeish, director of the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre at Imperial College London, said: “This is a very well-conducted study by a highly respected group of researchers.

“Proving causation links of this type is incredibly difficult and the authors are very careful to highlight the potential limitations of their study.

“However, this research is robust, analysing data from 250,000 women followed for an average of over 11 years, and has concluded there is no statistically significant relationship between talc use and the development of ovarian cancer.”

Justin Stebbing, National Institute for Health Research professor of Cancer Medicine and Medical Oncology, also at Imperial, added: “There weren’t many cases of ovarian cancer in the group so it’s possible a small effect has been missed, but it doesn’t look like talc is a carcinogen which is an important and reassuring finding, especially as they also looked at duration and frequency of use – again, finding no causative effects.”

One of the primary drivers of research on genital use of talc-based products and ovarian cancer has been the potential link between talc and asbestos, which can occur together in nature.

Most powder products include some mineral talc, which may be mined in the same location as asbestos.

There have been some cases in the US where women have taken legal action against powder manufacturers, claiming that use has caused their cancer.