Perineal exposure to talc and ovarian cancer risk

Bernard L. Harlow, Daniel W. Cramer, Debra A. Bell, William R. Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


Objective: We sought to determine whether the use of talc in genital hygiene increases the risk for epithelial ovarian cancer. Methods: We interviewed 235 white women diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer between 1984–1987 at ten Boston metropolitan area hospitals and 239 population-based controls of similar race, age, and residence. Results: Overall, 49% of cases and 39% of controls reported exposure to talc, via direct application to the perineum or to undergarments, sanitary napkins, or diaphragms, which yielded a 1.5 odds ratio (OR) for ovarian cancer (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.0–2.1). Among women with perineal exposure to talc, the risk was significantly elevated in the subgroups of women who applied it: 1) directly as a body powder (OR 1.7, 95% CI 1.1–2.7), 2) on a daily basis (OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.1–3.0), and 3) for more than 10 years (OR 1.6, 95% CI 1.0–2.7). The greatest ovarian cancer risk associated with perineal talc use was observed in the subgroup of women estimated to have made more than 10,000 applications during years when they were ovulating and had an intact genital tract (OR 2.8, 95% CI 1.4–5.4); however, this exposure was found in only 14% of the women with ovarian cancer. Conclusions: These data support the concept that a lifetime pattern of perineal talc use may increase the risk for epithelial ovarian cancer but is unlikely to be the etiology for the majority of epithelial ovarian cancers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-26
Number of pages8
JournalObstetrics and gynecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1992


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