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CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. researchers who conducted the largest study yet into whether applying powder to the genitals increases a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer were unable to definitively put to rest the issue that has prompted thousands of lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson and other companies.
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Overall, the study did not find a significantly increased risk of ovarian cancer, but there appeared to be a heightened risk among certain women who used the products.
The data found that women with an intact reproductive tract – those who never had a hysterectomy or their tubes tied – who reported using baby powder had a 13 percent higher risk of developing ovarian cancer compared to women who never used the product. That risk rose to 19 percent among women who used baby powders at least once a week.
The U.S.-funded study published in the medical journal JAMA on Tuesday pooled data on 252,745 women from four government studies that asked women whether they had ever used powder on their genitals. The study did not consider individual brands.
The data, compiled by a team at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), set out to provide a clear answer to whether use of such powders could cause ovarian cancer when applied near the genitals.
Instead, “we got an ambiguous answer,” said Katie O’Brien, an NIEHS epidemiologist who led the study.
“This was the largest study ever done, but because ovarian cancer is such a rare disease, it was still not big enough to detect a very small change in risk,” O’Brien said.
Prior studies have largely relied on asking women who had already developed ovarian cancer if they remember ever using baby powder on their genitals.
Such retrospective studies “can sometimes find links that do not exist,” Susan Gapstur, senior vice president of Behavioral and Epidemiology Research at the American Cancer Society, said in an email.
“The analysis by O’Brien and colleagues provides incremental insight into the link between genital powder use and ovarian cancer risk but does not provide the definitive evidence,” Gapstur said.