Maybe you’ve seen the lawsuit ads warning women against the negative side effects of talcum powder. “Talcum powder has been linked to ovarian cancer and death. Multiple eight-figure cash settlements have been awarded to victims of talcum powder,” one ad states.

New scientific assessment of ovarian cancer cells further corroborates these claims.

Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral that naturally contains the cancer-causing agent asbestos. Commonly found in cosmetic products like baby powder, talc is typically used to keep skin dry and help users avoid friction that may cause rashes.

Often marketed to female demographics and recommended for genital use, talcum powder can travel to the ovaries through use of sanitary napkins, application to inner thighs or condoms containing the substance.

The Study

Dr. Ghassan Saed, Associate Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at Wayne State University, wanted to see the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer for himself. His lab focuses on studying how ovarian cancer cells evolve and become cancerous, and why they eventually become resistant to chemotherapy. 

“I heard the talcum powder ads about increased risk of ovarian cancer and thought, ‘is there a link?’” Dr. Saed said. 

In February 2019, Dr. Saed and his team conducted and published a study to Reproductive Sciences confirming the link between the powder and ovarian cancer. The study was performed on existing ovarian cancer cell lines. Researchers exposed the experimental group of cells to talcum powder while leaving the control group untreated. 

Key measurements such as oxidative stress balance, inflammation and redox balance were monitored. 

“We picked some of the key markers we think play a role in regulating redox balance and inflammation. We measured them, increased amount of powder and continued to measure key benchmarks,” Dr. Saed said.   

Oxidative stress occurs when there aren’t enough antioxidants to control free radicals within the body. It is known to contribute to the development of cancer. Epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) cells manifest oxidative stress. Experimental cells in the study demonstrated a significant increase in oxidative stress consistent with EOC cells.

The Findings

“[Talcum powder] is inducing a similar redox alteration like the one we see in EOC cells,” said Dr. Saed. “We believe the oxidative stress is formed within the cells as part of inflammation is responsible for the formation of [ovarian] cancer.”

In addition to the significant increase in inflammation, Saed’s study noted that talc exposure caused an increase in rapid cell proliferation but a decrease in the death of cancerous cells. Normal cells, however, were more rapidly exterminated. This indicates that talcum powder directly contributes to the development of ovarian cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, previous studies on talcum powder and its link to ovarian cancer have been done on animals and cancer populations, but provided unclear results.

WSU’s findings are the first to confirm the cellular effect of talc and provide a molecular mechanism to previous reports linking genital use to increased ovarian cancer risk.

Women who have used talcum powder are at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer and should receive special medical attention, said. Dr. Saed.

Ovarian cancer has been termed the silent killer because it often doesn’t present early symptoms and there are no opportunities for preventative screening.

Speak to your doctor if you think you’ve been exposed to talc and are at risk of developing cancer.