Published Jul 13, 2020
The SurvivorNet community continues to ask for help understanding what, if any, cancer risk exists from using baby powder.
“I can’t pull a paper that says, ‘yes, if you use baby powder for [a certain] number of years, your risk of ovarian cancer goes up by a certain percentage. Those studies just don’t exist today,” says Dr. David Engle, a gynecologic oncologist at Baptist Medical Group in Memphis, Tennessee.
Claims that talc-based baby powder are linked to cancer diagnoses have been circling around for years, which has led many people in certain states to cash in on large sum lawsuits. However, experts say there’s still no concrete proof to link using baby powder with an increase in cancer diagnoses — particularly within ovarian cancer — despite studies researching this claim since the 80s’.
“These [causality] studies were done by asking a group of, say a hundred women that had ovarian cancer, every question imaginable,” Dr. Engle says. “[For example] what kind of medicines do you take? What kind of foods do you cook? What products do you use? And then we took a hundred other women that did not have cancer and asked them the same set of questions. They went through and compared what may have been some of the differences between patients that had cancer versus those that did not have cancer? Baby powder is one of the things that [could have] stuck out among those two patient populations.”
However, Dr. Engle points out that there’s a possible flaw in these studies — specifically while ovarian cancer patients may remember products they’ve used in order to understand if something “caused” their cancer, the women who did not have cancer may not be able to. Therefore, Dr. Engle states that results from these studies could be affected.
“Those studies are very shaky in trying to determine a cause for ovarian cancer,” says Dr. Engle. “So far, no study has directly linked baby powder to ovarian cancer. So it’s possible that baby powder may cause ovarian cancer but it’s also possible there is no cause. We just don’t know yet.”
Due to these claims of ovarian cancer’s possible association with baby powder, numerous studies have been conducted to determine whether talc-based products actually increase the risk of cancer. A study from NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute notes that while there have been studies which show using talc products does slightly increase the risk of ovarian cancer (about 8%), the results rely heavily on a woman’s memory in detailing the products she’s used — which is not always reliable.
Overall, the science linking the talc-based powder to cancer has not been fleshed out enough for experts to warn consumers about the product. However, in light of lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, the company has decided to pull its talc-based baby powder from shelves in the U.S. and only sell existing inventory. Johnson & Johnson plans to cornstarch baby powder in place of their talc-based products.