Talcum powder has been linked to cancer - here's what you need to know
A court case involving a US woman who blamed talcum powder for her mother's fatal ovarian cancer has sparked a debate on the product's safety.
On Monday, Johnson & Johnson were ordered to pay the woman's family NZ$108 million for damages.
Jackie Fox, among others, said the company failed to inform consumers about the dangers of talc. However, the company is said to be considering an appeal as it says its products are safe.
WHAT IS TALCUM POWDER?
The soft, white powder is made from talc – a mineral composed mainly of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen.
WHAT DO PEOPLE USE IT FOR?
Talcum powder absorbs moisture well and reduces friction. It's used for keeping skin dry and preventing rashes.
Years ago, it was used when diapering babies however doctors now recommend against its use as it can cause respiratory problems.
Plunket have been approached for comment for their up-to-date recommendations.
Talcum powder is still widely used in other cosmetics.
WHAT'S THE LINK BETWEEN OVARIAN CANCER AND TALCUM POWDER?
Some studies suggest a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, but scientists say it's not clear whether products containing talc can cause the disease.
Because there's no real need for it, doctors discourage people from using it on a regular basis.
WHERE'S THE EVIDENCE?
Well, studies show mixed results.
"Studies of personal use of talcum powder have had mixed results, although there is some suggestion of a possible increase in ovarian cancer risk," the American Cancer Society says on its website. "There is very little evidence at this time that any other forms of cancer are linked with consumer use of talcum powder."
In 2008, a Harvard Medical School study found women who used it every day on their genital areas were 40 per cent more likely to develop ovarian cancer. Used once a week, the risk was 36 per cent.
The British NHS said: "Although this study has shortcomings and does not provide strong evidence of a causal link in itself, when put in context with other studies on this topic, it adds to the body of evidence suggesting that use of talc may be linked to ovarian cancer."
The Cancer Society of New Zealand said with the way the studies were conducted it was difficult to know for sure.
The risk of women developing ovarian cancer over a lifetime is 1.4 per cent, so the overall risk, even if it is increased by up to 40 per cent, it remains low.
SO, SHOULD I STOP USING IT?
If you are someone who wants to minimise or eliminate all possible risks of cancer from your life, the answer is yes.
Because the highest authority available to us - the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer - classifies talc-based body powder as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" when it's used around the perineum - the nether region stretching from the vagina to the anus.
In other words, the international experts say there is possibly a link between talc and cancer.
"On the one hand we can't dismiss completely that the perineal use of talcum powder increases the risk of ovarian cancer," said Professor Bernard Stewart, a world authority on environmental cancer risks who advises both the IARC and Cancer Council Australia.
"On the other hand all of the studies are not conclusive. Some studies showed an association and some did not."
At this stage the evidence isn't strong enough to warrant action by health authorities, warnings against use or warnings on labels.