Genital powder exposure and the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer

Cancer Causes Control. 2011 May;22(5):737-42. doi: 10.1007/s10552-011-9746-3. Epub 2011 Mar 10.


Background: We conducted a population-based, case-control study to examine the association between the use of genital powder and ovarian cancer risk, including measures of extent and timing of exposure. We also assessed the relationship of powder use with risk of disease subtypes according to histology and degree of malignancy.

Methods: Information was collected during in-person interviews with 812 women with epithelial ovarian cancer diagnosed in western Washington State from 2002 to 2005 and 1,313 controls. Logistic regression was used to calculate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

Results: Overall, the perineal use of powder after bathing was associated with a slightly increased ovarian cancer risk (OR = 1.27, 95% CI: 0.97-1.66), which was most evident among women with borderline tumors (OR = 1.55, 95% CI: 1.02-2.37). We noted no clear pattern of risk increase on the basis of the extent of use, assessed as years in which powder was used, or as lifetime number of applications for invasive or borderline tumors, or their histologic subtypes. There was no alteration in the risk of ovarian cancer associated with other types of powder exposure (e.g., on sanitary napkins or diaphragms).

Conclusions: The International Agency for Research on Cancer has designated perineal exposure to talc (via the application of genital powders) as a possible carcinogen in women. A modest association of ovarian cancer with this exposure was seen in our study and in some previous ones, but that association generally has not been consistent within or among studies. Therefore, no stronger adjective than "possible" appears warranted at this time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Ovarian Epithelial
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms, Glandular and Epithelial / chemically induced*
  • Neoplasms, Glandular and Epithelial / epidemiology
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Talc / administration & dosage
  • Talc / adverse effects*
  • Washington / epidemiology


  • Talc