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Why Avoid Talc in Body Powder

Talc is closely related to the potent carcinogen asbestos. Talc particles have been shown to cause tumors in the ovaries and lungs of cancer victims. 

For the last 30 years, scientists have closely scrutinized talc particles and found dangerous similarities to asbestos. Responding to this evidence in 1973, the FDA drafted a resolution that would limit the amount of asbestos-like fibers in cosmetic grade talc. However, no ruling has ever been made and today, cosmetic grade talc remains non-regulated by the federal government. This inaction ignores a 1993 National Toxicology Program report which found that cosmetic grade talc, without any asbestos-like fibers, caused tumors in animals. Clearly with or without asbestos-like fibers, cosmetic grade talcum powder is a carcinogen.

As we say here at The Creekside, “Why take the risk?”

Ovarian cancer It has been suggested that talcum powder might cause cancer in the ovaries if the powder particles (applied to the genital area or on sanitary napkins, diaphragms, or condoms) were to travel through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovary. Several studies in women have looked at the possible link between talcum powder and cancer of the ovary. Findings are mixed, with some studies reporting a slightly increased risk and some reporting no increase.

Lung cancer Some studies of talc miners and millers have suggested an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases, while others have found no increase in lung cancer risk. These studies have been complicated by the fact that talc in its natural form contain varying amounts of asbestos. When working underground, miners may also be exposed to other substances that might affect lung cancer risk, such as radon.

Other cancers One recent study suggested genital talcum powder use may slightly increase the risk of endometrial (uterine) cancer in women who are past menopause, but further studies are needed to explore this possible link. 

Coggiola M, Bosio D, Pira E, et al. An update of a mortality study of talc miners and millers in Italy. Am J Ind Med. 2003;44:63−69.
Cook LS, Kamb ML, Weiss NS. Perineal powder exposure and the risk of ovarian cancer. Am J Epidemiol.1997;145:459−465.
Gertrg DM, Hunter DJ, Cramer DW, et al. Prospective study of talc use and ovarian cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2000;92:249−252.
Harlow BL, Cramer DW, Bell DA, Welch WR. Perineal exposure to talc and ovarian cancer risk. Obstet Gynecol.1992;80:19−26.
Hartge P, Stewart PA. Occupation and ovarian cancer: a case-control study in the Washington DC metropolitan area, 1978-1981. J Occup Med. 1994;36:924−927.
Honda Y, Beall C, Delzell E, et al. Mortality among workers at a talc mining and milling facility. Ann Occup Hyg. 2002;46:575−585.
Huncharek M, Geschwind JF, Kupelnick B. Perineal application of cosmetic talc and risk of invasive epithelial ovarian cancer: a meta-analysis of 11,933 subjects from sixteen observational studies. Anticancer Res. 2003;23:1955−1960.
International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Supplement 7: Overall Evaluations of Carcinogenicity: An Updating of IARC Monographs Volumes 1 to 42. 1987. Accessed at http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/suppl7/Suppl7-144.pdf on September 14, 2011.
International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Volume 93. Carbon Black, Titanium Dioxide, Talc. 2010. Accessed at: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol93/index.php on September 14, 2011.
Karageorgi S, Gates MA, Hankinson SE, De Vivo I. Perineal use of talcum powder and endometrial cancer risk. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2010;19:1269−1275.
Mills PK, Riordan DG, Cress RD, Young HA. Perineal talc exposure and epithelial ovarian cancer risk in the Central Valley of California. Int J Cancer. 2004;112:458−464.
Rosenblatt KA, Weiss NS, Cushing-Haugen KL, Wicklund KG, Rossing MA. Genital powder exposure and the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. Cancer Causes Control. 2011;22:737−742.
Thomas TL, Stewart PA. Mortality from lung cancer and respiratory disease among pottery workers exposed to silica and talc. Am J Epidemiol. 1987;125:35−43.
US Department of Health and Human Services. Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program. Talc (cosmetic & occupational exposure). 2007. Accessed at http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/index.cfm?objectid=03CA6E02-FBD5-5C52-9699F9DD00863ED7 on September 14, 2011.

Last Medical Review: 09/23/2011 Last Revised: 09/23/2011

Another worthy source of information quoted from the University of Illinois at Chicago:


1. Do not buy or use products containing talc. It is especially
important that women not apply talc to underwear or sanitary pads.
2. Contact your pediatrician and/or local hospital and find out if they
have a policy regarding talc use and infants.
3. Write to the FDA and express your concern that a proven carcinogen
has remained unregulated while millions of people are unknowingly

References: 1.National Toxicology Program. "Toxicology and carcinogenesis studies 
talc (GAS No 14807-96-6) in F344/N rats and B6C3F, mice (Inhalation
studies)." Technical Report Series No. 421. September 1993.
2. Harlow BL, Cramer DW, Bell DA, Welch WR. "Perineal exposure to talc
and ovarian cancer risk." Obstetrics & Gynecology, 80: 19-26, 1992.
3. Hollinger MA. "Pulmonary toxicity of inhaled and intravenous talc."
Toxicology Letters, 52:121-127, 1990.

Cancer Prevention Coalition 
c/o University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, M/C 922
2121 West Taylor Street
Chicago, IL 60612
Tel: (312) 996-2297
E-mail: epstein@uic.edu