Talcum Powder From Talc Can Cause Cancer

Brands of talcum powder available in the country have been found to contain harmful elements, according to an initial study conducted by the Pakistan Medical Research Council (PMRC) in Islamabad. The researchers hastened to add, however, that the study was too small to draw a definite conclusion and further extensive studies would be undertaken.

“More extensive investigations would have to be undertaken by consumer protection bodies such as the Pakistan Council for Scientific and Industrial Research,” said PMRC Director Dr Huma Qureshi while talking to Daily Times Friday.

Talcum powder is produced from talc, a magnesium trisilicate mineral, which in its natural form may contain asbestos, a known human carcinogen (any substance that causes cancer or helps cancer grow). Asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesotheliomas (cancers affecting the lining surfaces of the chest and abdominal cavities). Because of this association with asbestos, all home-use talcum products marketed in the USA after about 1973 – baby powders, body powders, facial powders – have been required by law to be asbestos-free.

The objective of the PMRC study was to evaluate the presence of asbestos fiber in commonly used talcum powders marketed in Pakistan, APP reported Friday. The study was carried out in collaboration with Centre of Excellence in Geology & Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Peshawar. Thirty-one locally and imported brands of talcum powder were analyzed for the presence of asbestos along with the classification of various types of asbestos mineral present.

Results showed that all samples of talcum powder including local and imported brands contained a mixture of different types of asbestos fibers and other hazardous minerals and thus, can not be recommended as being of cosmetic grade.

While no increased risk of human lung cancer has been reported in association with the use of cosmetic talcum powder, it has been suggested that talcum powder may be carcinogenic to the covering layer of the ovaries through the migration of talcum powder particles (applied to the genital area, sanitary napkins, diaphragms, or condoms) through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovary.

A case-control study published in American Journal of Epidemiology in 1997 of 313 women with ovarian cancer and 422 without this disease found that the women with cancer were more likely to have applied talcum powder to their external genital area or to have used genital deodorant sprays. Women using these products had a 50 percent to 90 percent higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Storing diaphragms with powder did not significantly increase cancer risk. Since many of these women might have used products with more asbestos contamination than that in current products, the ovarian cancer risk for current users is difficult to evaluate.

The most recent study of this subject found an overall 37 percent increased risk among talc users. It was interesting that the risk from talc use increased by 54 percent among women who had not had a tubal ligation (had their tubes “tied”) to prevent pregnancy, whereas talc had no impact on women whose tubes had been tied. Because tubal ligation is expected to block external carcinogens from reaching the ovaries via the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes, this finding provides some support for the idea that talc is a carcinogen.

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