When talking about whether talcum powder causes cancer, it is necessary to differentiate between talc with asbestos and talc that’s asbestos-free, according to the American Cancer Society.1 It is widely accepted that talc with asbestos can cause lung cancer if inhaled, but these days only asbestos-free talc is used in consumer products like Baby Powder.
Whether asbestos-free talcum powder causes cancer remains less clear.
In studies dating back as early as 1971, researchers noticed the presence of talc particles in ovarian cancer cells. Other studies noted that women who used talcum powder on a daily basis may have a slightly elevated risk of ovarian cancer. However, the American Cancer Society warns that these studies might be biased.
Additional studies have made similar connections between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. One 2016 study2 reported a 44 percent increased risk for a type of ovarian cancer among African American women who used the powder on their genitals.
While dozens of studies have found an increased connection between the two, others did not notice an increased risk at all.
Organizations also offer conflicting information. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a specialized agency of the World Health Organization, warns that talc is “possibly“3 carcinogenic to humans. The National Cancer Institute4, on the other hand, says “evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.”
This underscores the difficulty of actually determining the cause-and-effect relationship. That’s why thousands of women have filed lawsuits to let the courts decide.
1 Talcum Powder and Cancer, American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/talcum-powder-and-cancer.html
2 Association between Body Powder Use and Ovarian Cancer: the African American Cancer Epidemiology Study (AACES), American Association for Cancer Research, http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2016/05/12/1055-9965.EPI-15-1281
3 IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, WHO, https://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol93/mono93.pdf
4 Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Primary Peritoneal Cancer Prevention (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version, National Cancer Institue, https://www.cancer.gov/types/ovarian/hp/ovarian-prevention-pdq#link/_220_toc