Talcum Powder and Testicular Cancer

Introduction

Cancer is the 2nd major cause of death in the world. This cancer may occur in various parts of the body, including reproductive organs (testicular cancer, ovarian cancer). Though testicular cancer is not much common in the world, the annual incidence rate is increasing gradually.

In testicular cancer, approximately 90 percent of cancer developed in germ cells. These cells make the sperms that are used to fertilize the egg. There are two main GCTs (Germ Cell tumor) types seminomas and nonseminomas, which are composed of choriocarcinoma or teratoma.

The etiology of this disease is not entirely understood. Researchers have found various risk factors that may cause testicular and ovarian cancer.

Talcum Powder and Talc

Talcum powder is a product that may contain talc, baking soda, fragrances, and corn starch. Talcum powder has talc, which is known as magnesium silicate (MgSiO3). It is the softest mineral that is used to dry, protect, and perfume skin. It is used to absorb the moisture that helps to keep the skin free from rashes.

It is very popular in the cosmetic for both and men and woman. According to the American Cancer Society, talc in its natural state can contain varying amounts of asbestos. Asbestos has been identified as a potential cause of mesothelioma, and it is directly associated with testicular cancer.

Mesothelioma affects the lining of the testis, heart, and lungs. If the talcum powder has the contamination of asbestos, it may put you and your family at a potential risk of cancer. This powder has been commonly used without such warnings.

In 1976, CTFA (Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association), an association that represents cosmetic products industry, issued guidelines in the USA that all talc-containing cosmetic products should be free from asbestos because it is harmful to the body. It is harmful to the body in the following conditions:

Application of Talcum powder in the genital region regularly, which may lead to ovarian or testicular cancer. Workers who are working in talc mining are exposed to asbestos and having a high risk of lung cancer.

This talcum powder is applied to areas of the body which are prone to uncomfortable dampness and chafing such as feet, underarms, and the genital area. It may be possible for small particles of powder to make their way up to genital organs gradually and may cause inflammation. It is found that it also dries out the mucous membrane. It has been found that 75% of reproductive organ tumors contained talc material.

The male reproductive organ has two testes. Each testicle has a spermatic cord, blood vessels, and nerves. Cancer may spread to these structures and may go to nearby lymph nodes. Asbestos may lead to the disturbance of the average hormonal level. Scientists have found some risk factors that may result in the development of testicular cancer.

Does Talcum powder (Talc) cause cancer?

As we know that talc is used in several cosmetic products, so it is important to differentiate between talc contaminated with asbestos and asbestos-free talc. Talc that is free from asbestos is not harmful, while asbestos-contaminated talc may lead to testicular, ovarian, and lung cancer.

Talcum powder (contaminated with asbestos) use in the pelvic area of the body can expose the genital organs to various carcinogenic elements. It leads to the chronic inflammation of genital organs. This chronic inflammation increases the risks of epithelial ovarian cancer.

Scientific studies have proved that the use of talcum powder (talc) in the pelvic area or perineal region of the body enhances the risks of all types of ovarian as well as testicular cancers. This risk of ovarian cancer is more significant in women with a history of endometriosis (a gynecological disorder). On average, 1 in every seventy-five women will have ovarian cancer in her life. It is about 1%, while the development of breast cancer is about 12%.

Unfortunately, there is no recommended test available to screen ovarian cancer. It is rare to diagnose this kind of cancer in the early stages. In 2017, 20,000 new cases of ovarian cancer had been reported. There are some other factors too that play their role in this condition, such as prolonged use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and aspirin.

Researchers have collected information from the affected people. Questions were asked that about the duration of talcum powder, whether they had ever used the talc powder, underarms, on the chest, and the genital organs and duration of use. Researchers have found a consistent association between the use of talcum powder (talc) and genital (testicular and ovarian) cancer. This association is more significant between serous tumors and talc use.

This association is due to the similarities between mesothelioma (a type of cancer of thin layer tissues) and serous ovarian/testicular cancer. This serous subtype of cancer is more evident in an older woman who is above 50 years old. Still, it is not properly identified how this chronic inflammation leads to the development of cancer. Studies are being conducted on this topic.

If you use talcum powder in the genital area, talc particles are transferred to the ovaries through the vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes. Women who have gone under surgery for tubal ligation, these particles cannot be transferred to ovaries. So, there is a small quantity of talc is required to reach the testis or ovaries to enhance the risk of cancer. If it is inhaled, it may also cause cancer in the lungs.

Scientists have conducted two types of research to figure out the impact of this substance on the living body. Lab study has been conducted on the lab animals where they were exposed to this substance to study the types of changes. Secondly, different surveys have been performed to gather information. Still, results are not very clear.

Individuals who use talcum powder are approximately 31% more likely to develop testicular/ovarian cancer than others. It means that in a lifetime, an individual who uses talcum powder has 1.2% to 1.8% increased chances of developing testicular/ovarian cancer. It means if 1 million people use talcum powder, above than 4000 individuals will develop testicular/ovarian cancer.

A lot of studies have been performed to look at the link between talcum powder and testicular/ovarian cancer. A mixed type of findings has been observed. Several studies reported a slightly increased risk while some claimed no increase. But such studies may be biased as they relay on one’s memory of talcum powder use several years earlier. But the use of talc in cosmetic products is much controversial and it needs more research.

Other Cancers

Some limited studies have also claimed that exposure to talcum powder may lead to uterine cancer, stomach cancer, and lung cancer. But there is no strong evidence available to support such claims.

Opinion of Experts

Various international and national agencies are studying this substance to know its impact. The primary goal of the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) is to identify different carcinogenic substances. It is a part of the WHO (World Health Organization). The American Cancer Society has also conducted research studies on laboratory animals.

  • IARC identifies asbestos-contaminated talc as carcinogenic.
  • Due to a lack of data, IARC doesn’t identify asbestos-free talc as carcinogenic for humans.
  • IARC also claims Talc based cosmetic products as carcinogenic for genital male and female organs.

While some other agencies such as NTP (National Toxicology Program) of the US, CDC (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and NIH (National Institutes of Health) don’t classify this substance as carcinogenic.

Conclusion

Scientific studies have found that the use of talcum powder may be linked with testicular cancer and, more commonly, with ovarian cancer. There are some instances that have been reported that some consumers diagnosed with testicular cancer have filed a lawsuit. It has been claimed that about 2600 people are diagnosed with cancer in the UK. But still, there is no solid proof that there is any link between cancer and talc. But it is better to avoid such a product for the safety of your loved ones.

References:

  1. Swerdlow, A.J., Huttly, S.R., Smith, P.G., 1989. Testis cancer: post-natalhormonal factors, sexual behaviour and fertility. Int. J. Cancer 43,
    549 e553.
  2. Huncharek, M., Geschwind, J.F., Kupelnick, B., 2003. Perineal application of cosmetic talc and risk of invasive epithelial ovarian cancer: a meta-analysis of 11,933 subjects from sixteen observational studies. Anticancer Res. 23, 1955 e1960.
  3. Gates, M.A., Tworoger, S.S., Terry, K.L., et al., 2008. Talc use, variants ofthe GSTM1, GSTT1, and NAT2 genes, and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev. 17, 2436 e2444.
  4. Cook, L.S., Kamb, M.L., Weiss, N.S., 1997. Perineal powder exposure and the risk of ovarian cancer. Am. J. Epidemiol. 145, 459 e465.
  5. Use of talcum powder and endometrial cancer risk.(PMID:22245995)Neill AS, Nagle CM, Spurdle AB, Webb PM.Cancer Causes Control[2012]
  6. Ness RB, Cottreau C. Possible role of ovarian epithelial inflammation in ovarian cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 1999;91:1459–67.
  7. Cramer DW, Liberman RF, Titus-Ernstoff L, Welch WR, Greenberg ER, Baron JA, Harlow BL. Genital talc exposure and risk of ovarian cancer. Int J Cancer 1999;81:351–6.
  8. Huncharek M, Geschwind JF, Kupelnick B. Perineal application of cosmetic talc and risk of invasive epithelial ovarian cancer: a metaanalysis of 11,933 subjects from sixteen observational studies. Anticancer Res 2003;23:1955–60.
  9. Gertig DM, Hunter DJ, Cramer DW, Colditz GA, Speizer FE, Willett WC, Hankinson SE. Prospective study of talc use and ovarian cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 2000;92:249–52.
  10. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/7981715/johnson-johnson-talc-cancer-asbestos-decades/

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This is Dr. Hafeez. I have done my M.Phil in Pharmacology. I am a healthcare professional. My core competencies focus on writing different types of research articles/blogs regarding health sciences.

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