Done and dusted: dangers that could lurk in your talcum powder

Aesha Datta | Updated on January 20, 2018 Published on March 04, 2016


J&J asked to pay $72 m to family of a woman whose cancer was linked to her use of talc

Denise Nelson Vitale, a US-based mother of two, is on a mission to find out if using talcum powder over the years has caused her ovarian cancer and put her on the chemo chair.

“With zero family history (of cancer) and zero for the gene (mutation) something caused it,” says Vitale, adding that the possible link between talcum powder and cancer angers her.

The concern stems from a US Court directive to Johnson and Johnson (J&J) asking it to pay $72 million to the family of a woman whose cancer was linked to her use of talc. J&J is in the spotlight, but the incident has cast a shadow across the talc category.

US-based Alana Talarico says, “I’ve used talc for years to freshen up... What about baby girls who are getting powdered every single day?” Recently diagnosed with a tumour in her ovaries, Talarico awaits reports to know if it is cancerous.

Vitale and Talarico are part of a patient group on ovarian cancer. And the latest development has many parents reading up on the possible talcum powder link with cancer.

Shyam Agarwal, Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, explains, “There are several case-controlled studies which show that among women using talc in their inner wear over long periods of time higher incidences of ovarian cancers have been seen, especially the serous kind. There have been more than 11-12 studies of which I think 8 or so have come back positive on this.”

He adds that talc particles on tumours is evidence that it can enter a women’s body when used for personal hygiene, go up the uterus and through the fallopian tubes and reach the ovaries, where it can cause inflammation, creating grounds for cancer to develop. A J&J India spokesperson says, “The talc used in all our global products is carefully selected and meets the highest quality, purity and compliance standards. Our confidence in using talc reflects more than 30 years of research by independent scientists, review boards and global authorities, which have concluded that talc can be used safely in personal care products.”

The company said it would appeal the US ruling.

But Sonia Gupta, mother of a month-old boy, is looking for alternatives to the baby powder. “I know J&J have said there are no carcinogenic components in the powder, but they have lost a lawsuit and until there is conclusive evidence that it cannot harm children, I won’t use it. I will try to explore natural alternatives.” Doctors clarify that talc may not be carcinogenic for external use on the skin, but when it enters a woman’s body, it can cause problems.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organisation) classifies use of talc-based body powder on the genitals as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Coffee, incidentally, is classified in the same category.

Published on March 04, 2016
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