- A study of more than 250,000 US women released Tuesday suggests there’s no meaningful link between genital baby powder use and ovarian cancer risk.
- The study is the largest of its kind to date, countering fears that women who put baby powder on themselves might be inadvertently increasing their risk of a rare but often fatal type of cancer.
- There are still other unanswered concerns about how baby powder contaminated with trace amounts of asbestos, a known cancer-causer, might contribute to other types of cancer risk.
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A new, large study of more than 250,000 US women suggests there’s little evidence using baby powder on female genitals increases ovarian cancer risk.
The study, published in the journal Jama on Tuesday, is not the first to suggest there’s no evidence of a link between ovarian cancer and baby powder. But it is the largest to date, lending a huge trove of data to a conclusion that scientists have been hinting at for decades, even as thousands of lawsuits against baby powder giant Johnson & Johnson cost the company millions.
In an editorial published alongside the study, public health experts stressed that the tiny increase in ovarian cancer incidence observed among baby powder users shouldn’t be interpreted “as evidence of a relationship” between baby powder use and ovarian cancer.
The study looked at data from nurses, sisters, and postmenopausal women over four decades
This study compiled data from four different large studies of nurses, sisters, and postmenopausal women over four decades (from 1976 to 2017). Some women who were in the studies reported they never used any powder on their genitals, and other women said they sometimes used powder on their genitals, sanitary napkins, tampons, or underwear.
A tiny fraction of both of those groups of women got ovarian cancer during the studies: 61 women out of every 100,000 who said they used baby powder on their private areas got cancer, and 55 out of 100,000 who never used baby powder did.
Talc-based baby powder might contribute to some cancer cases
Baby powder giant Johnson & Johnson has for years maintained its brand of talc-based powder is safe, despite evidence that the company knew its products might be contaminated with asbestos, a known lung cancer-causer. (Asbestos and talc, a common baby powder ingredient, are often found together in nature.)
Women like Darlene Coker (now deceased) and Linda O’Hagan have sued the company on that front, arguing that baby powder might’ve contributed to cancers like mesothelioma, as Reuters reported in 2018. (O’Hagan and her family settled with Johnson & Johnson for over $US2 million, a California judge announced on Monday.)
But a connection between baby powder and ovarian cancer has been more difficult to substantiate.
Epidemiologist Joellen Schildkraut, a professor of public health at the University of Virginia, has previously said that studies on talc powder and cancer – including some of her own – don’t meet scientific criteria for causality.
Part of the problem, Schildkraut said, is that media coverage and publicity that call into question the safety of baby powder have skewed people’s perceptions and memories. That can influence how they report their use of the powders.
“We did see a relationship,” between powder use and cancer, she told Business Insider in 2018. “But we also detected some bias in the way our data was collected.”
Still, the authors of this study stressed that there is more research to be done about baby powder and cancer risk. For one thing, the study group was not very diverse. Most of the women in these four studies were white, well-educated, and not overweight, and not very many of them got the rare form of cancer.
But studying baby powder-related ovarian cancer risk may soon be a thing of the past, because the study authors noticed that far fewer younger women are using baby powder on their genitals in the first place.
- Read more:
- Johnson & Johnson is being investigated by the SEC over fears its baby powder may cause cancer – here’s how worried you should be
- 34 of the most dangerous things science has strongly linked to cancer
- Johnson & Johnson recalled a batch of baby powder after a test found asbestos. The company says the product is safe.
- Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that its baby powder contained asbestos