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Talcum powder is the powdery and refined form of talc, the softest mineral found in the world. Talc is made of mainly three elements: magnesium, oxygen, and silicon. Talcum powder is often known as baby powder. Talc is an inert substance. It does not cause a chemical reaction when applied on the skin or ingested by a person. Since Egyptian times, people have used talcum powder for its natural smoothness. Some people think that talcum powder causes cancer as talc contains some amount of asbestos. So, the question that worries people is can talcum powder cause cancer? Let’s take a look and analyze the safety of using talcum powder.
Can talcum powder cause cancer?
Talcum powder keeps the skin dry and prevents rashes. It is an ingredient in various cosmetic products such as adult facial powders, adult body powders, and baby powders. It is also present in your foundation, eyeshadow, deodorant, blusher, and soap. When talc is in natural form, it contains asbestos. Asbestos is a harmful substance that can cause lung cancer if a person inhales it. Since the 1970s, all talcum products in the U.S have been free from asbestos. Before analyzing can talcum powder cause cancer, let’s take a look at some common facts about talcum powder.
How is talcum powder made?
You can find talc in the rock deposits all over the earth. Talc miners mine it like other precious minerals. The companies use talc of the highest grade to make talcum powder. After the miners take talc from the earth, it is crushed and milled to form a powder. It is then tested for purity and particle size. The testing methodology of talcum powder is to detect the presence of asbestos in the talcum powder. In 1976, CTFA (Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association) developed the testing methodology. It is accepted and still used by the Food and Drug Administration of U.S.
Before answering can talcum powder cause cancer, it is important to look at the possible links between the two.
1. People such as talc miners who have exposure to talc particles for a long time have a higher risk of getting lung cancer. This is because they are inhaling the talc particles which may contain asbestos.
2. There are many women who like to apply talcum powder on the genital area. They can have a risk of getting ovarian cancer.
If you want to know can talcum powder cause cancer, you need to differentiate between two types of talc. There are two types of talc: talc with asbestos and talc without asbestos. Talc with asbestos can cause cancer if a person inhales it. Therefore, it is not used in cosmetic products. There are doubts about talc which do not contain asbestos. This type of talc is widely used in cosmetic products.
There are two types of studies that researchers use to find out can talcum powder cause cancer. The studies are meant to figure out if exposure to a substance or direct use of the substance can cause cancer.
The first type of studies is done in the laboratory. The researchers expose animals like mice, rats, and hamsters to a particular substance in large doses. They monitor if exposure to the substance causes tumors or other diseases in the animals. Sometimes, researchers expose normal cells in a laboratory dish to the particular substance. They monitor if the normal cells undergo any types of changes that can be seen in cancer cells.
Although the results of laboratory studies are often not clear, researchers conduct these studies. The results often do not apply to humans. However, these studies are a suitable way to detect if a substance can possibly cause cancer.
Researchers exposed many animals like rats and mice to talc free from asbestos in various ways. The laboratory studies showed mixed results. Some animals had tumors, whereas some animals were absolutely healthy.
Studies in People
The second type of studies take a detailed look at the cancer rates in two groups of people. The objective of the study is to compare the rate of cancer in a group that has been exposed to a particular substance to the group that has not been exposed to the substance. As many factors affect the results, it can be difficult to analyze the results properly.
Many studies have been conducted on two groups of people: talc miners and general people who use talcum powder. The studies suggest that talc miners have a higher risk of not only lung cancer but various other respiratory diseases. According to the studies, there was no increase in the risk of lung cancer in the second group.
In its natural form, talc can contain some amount of asbestos and other harmful minerals. When talc is used in consumer products, it is purified. As a result, people using talcum powder do not have a higher risk of getting lung cancer. As talc miners work underground, they are often exposed to other harmful substances such as radon which can cause lung cancer.
Many people think that talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer if a woman applies it to the genital area. The powder particles can travel to the ovary through the vagina and cause ovarian cancer. Even if the talcum powder is present in sanitary napkins or condoms, they can enhance the risk of cancer. The particles can inflame the ovarian tissues and produce cysts. Therefore, many studies were conducted to establish the link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder. The results of the studies are not clear.
Some studies said that there is a slight increase in the risk of ovarian cancer. There have been instances when tumors in the ovary contained talc particles. Many other studies reported no increase in the risk of ovarian cancer. After seeing the mixed results, the conclusion is that even if there is a risk, it is low. Women can stop applying talcum powder to their genital area for their safety. As the results are mixed, more research is taking place to understand can talcum powder cause cancer.
Apart from lung cancer and ovarian cancer, talcum powder is not linked strongly to other cancers. One study linked talcum powder to uterine cancer in women who used talcum powder in their genital area. The study showed a slight increase in the risk of uterine cancer in women after menopause. However, other studies have not found any such link.
The verdict of the expert agencies
You can look at the verdict of the expert agencies to understand can talcum powder cause cancer. There are several international and national agencies that study various substances to determine if they are able to cause cancer. The American Cancer Society takes a look at all these organizations to assess the risks of a particular substance based on the studies.
The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) is a part of the WHO (World Health Organization). The goal of the agency is to identify the various causes of cancer. According to IARC, talc with asbestos is carcinogenic to human beings. IARC says that the talc that does not contain asbestos is not classifiable on the grounds of carcinogenicity in humans. According to IARC, genital use of talcum powder is possibly carcinogenic to human beings. These classifications of IARC are on the basis of laboratory and human studies.
The US NTP (National Toxicology Program) is formed from different government agencies. The agencies include NIH (National Institutes of Health), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and FDA (Food and Drug Administration). NTP has not yet completely reviewed talc as a possibly carcinogenic substance.
How to stay safe?
Many consumers have filed cases against talcum powder companies such as Johnson & Johnson. The consumers claim that using their baby powders for a long time is resulting in ovarian cancer. Plenty of studies and researches are being conducted on talcum powder. But researchers have not arrived at a final answer to the question: Can talcum powder cause cancer?
It is best to minimize talc exposure in order to stay healthy. You can find talc in various beauty products. Check the ingredients of all the cosmetic products that you use. If you find talc as one of the ingredients, get rid of the product. You can find alternative products in the market. If you are worried about developing ovarian cancer due to using talc for years, talk to a doctor. He can advise you to go through some screening tests.
After looking at the possible causes and verdict of agencies, it is not clear if talcum powder can cause cancer. According to studies, there are mixed results in people who use talcum powder. However, there is a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer that one cannot ignore. Therefore, women should avoid applying talcum powder to their genital area to stay safe.