Talc and cancer link 'inconclusive', say Singaporean health experts

Talc and cancer link 'inconclusive', say Singaporean health experts

"Talc has been used in cosmetics since the Bronze Age, 3,000 years ago." What else do the experts say?

Recently, health concerns were raised over personal hygiene products containing talc, after healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) was asked by a US court to pay US$72million (S$101 million) to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer last year.

The woman had used J&J's talc-based products over many years.

The company is currently facing over 1000 lawsuits by others who claim it failed to warn consumers about the health risks of talc, based on studies that point these out.

However, local doctors say that the connection between talc and ovarian cancer is yet to be completely proven. 

Singapore doctors explain

Dr Elaine Lim, senior consultant at the National Cancer Centre Singapore's medical oncology department, told The Straits Times, "The evidence regarding a link between talc and ovarian cancer remains inconclusive."

Similarly, the Cancer Council of Australia also reports that "there is inconclusive evidence that using talcum powder can cause cancer."

Obstetrician and gynaecologist for Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital Elisa Koh explained that "ovarian cancer is believed to be caused when the ovaries become inflamed, which can happen when they are irritated by a foreign substance."

"The issue is the entry of the powder through the genital tract. Using it on the chest or face is unlikely to be a problem." she said.

Meanwhile, The World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies the use of talc-based body powder in the genital region as "possibly carcinogenic".

What this means is that the evidence that such powder causes cancer in humans is limited.

Currently, talc is used in quite a few everyday products, including deodorants, cosmetics and sometimes even powdered food.

On the next page, continue reading what experts have to say about the matter, as well as the stance of Singaporean supermarkets in relation to keeping J&J talc-based products on their shelves.

"Used since the Bronze Age"

Dr Alain Khaiat, president of the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association of Singapore said, "Talc has been used in cosmetics since the Bronze Age, 3,000 years ago."

"It is used... as a filler in tablets as well as to prevent them from sticking to the compacting dye. In cosmetics, talc is found in pressed powders, blushes, eyeshadows, and so on."

He also added that in Sweden, where people use very little talc, ovarian cancer rates are high. In contrast, rates of the same disease are low in India, where a lot of talcum powder is used.

Johnson & Johnson told The Straits Times that the talc it uses is "carefully selected and meets the highest quality, purity and compliance standards".

The company also told theAsianparent that they "firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence."

Consumers of J&J products have mixed feelings.

Marketing executive Andrea Ong told The Straits Times , "I've been using Johnson & Johnson powder since I was young.  It has become an essential toiletry for my family." She also said that if there was a major problem with their products, that it should have surfaced before now.

But others, like designer Pradeep Kumar, voiced concerns.

"I have two kids and they both have used Johnson & Johnson products for many years," the 44-year-old told The Straits Times. "Now I'm really worried and I don't know what will happen (to my children) in the future."

The stance of supermarkets in Singapore

Major Singaporean supermarkets are reportedly monitoring the situation.

A Sheng Siong spokesman reportedly said, "At this point in time, there are no plans to remove the products from our shelves. However, we will continue to monitor such developments and review our decision from time to time or as and when it is necessary."

A spokesman for NTUC FairPrice said: "As an added precaution, we are in the process of consulting local regulatory authorities as well over this matter."

Mums and dads, if you are still concerned about the possible health effects of talc, especially when it comes to yourself and your kids, Dr Elaine Lim recommends using products that contain cornstarch as an alternative.

Share your thoughts on the topic of talc and cancer - just leave a comment below. 

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