Ovarian Cancer – Study Finds Talcum Powder Link

Apr 17, 2009 by

Ovarian Cancer – Study Finds Talcum Powder Link

Further findings from the study was that women who have the gene glutathione S-transferase M1, or GSTM1, but do not have the gene S-transferase T1 ( GSTT1), had almost three times as high the risk of developing tumors. This genetic combination is believed to be present in about 10% of Caucasian women. Women who were only lacking the gene GSTT1 also had a higher cancer risk. This higher risk also applied when the study team considered serious, invasive cancer, which is one of the three main types of ovarian cancer.

According to the study team, extensive research had been previously carried out and some studies have found “modest association” between talc use on the genital area and higher risk of ovarian cancer. And this association has been controversial, because of factors such as “a lack of a clear dose-response with increasing frequency or duration of talc use, the possibility of confounding or other biases, and the uncertain biological mechanism”.

And because the latest study provides an observed dose-response – higher talc use frequency being linked with greater ovarian cancer risk, including for serious invasive cancer – the research team feels that their findings give further support to the long-held idea that genital exposure to talcum powder increases the risk of ovarian cancer.

As for the findings on the effects of different genes, the study’s findings suggest that one’s biological response to talcum powder may be affected by genes which are involved in its detoxification pathways.

The study team had hypothesized that, because talc, which is made through crushing, drying, and then milling of a mineral called hydrous magnesium silicate, has similar chemical properties to asbestos, it was possible that the same molecular and genetic pathways could play a part in the body’s ability to cope with these substances. Specific combinations or variations in certain genes would mean that a person was less able to metabolize or detoxify carcinogens – it would then follow that these people should have a higher risk of ovarian cancer with increased talc exposure.

Asbestos is known to cause a deadly form of lung cancer.

Limitations of Study

It is important to note that the said study, which was published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, has a few limitations. Firstly, the two studies which it drew data from had different methods of data collection. Also, the participants of the NHS study were also only asked once on their talc usage, and they might thus not have been classified correctly.

In addition, it is not really possible to be sure if exposure to talc had in fact preceded ovarian cancer diagnosis, i.e. that the use of talcum powder played a part in the development of the disease.

While some factors, such as age, use of oral contraceptives, body mass index and menopausal status, were taken into account and adjusted for, there are probably also some other important ovarian cancer risk factors which were not accounted for.

Does talcum powder really increase ovarian cancer risk?

Each year, more than 6,000 women in the United Kingdom are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In the United States, more than 20,000 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2004, while more than 14,700 died from the disease that year.

Some risk factors, besides general lifestyle and dietary habits, include family history, being overweight, use of hormone replacement therapy, relatively earlier start of menses, and having already been diagnosed with breast cancer.

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