Women may increase their risk of ovarian cancer by using powder in their genital area, particularly in sprays, a study suggests.
The researchers cautioned that the study did not look at how much powder the women used or exactly what was in it in some cases.
But they said that because the use of powder in the genital area is so prevalent - up to half of all women, by some estimates - that even a modest increase in risk could have a real effect on the incidence of ovarian cancer.
The study, from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington, was reported in the March 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.
The study involved 313 white women in three western Washington counties, 20 to 79 years old, who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986 through 1988. They were compared with 422 women with no history of ovarian cancer.
The researchers looked at cornstarch, talcum powder, baby powder, deodorant powder and scented bath powder, and four ways of using it: in genital sprays, by direct application after bathing, by storing diaphragms in powder and by applying powder to sanitary napkins.
Women who used sprays were found to have a 90 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer, though the study noted that some sprays did not contain powder. The researchers raised the possibility that some unidentified substances - and not the powder - may be at fault.
Women who routinely powdered after bathing had a 60 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer. No increase in risk was noted among those who applied powder to sanitary napkins or who stored their diaphragms in powder.
Overall, the study found a 50 percent increase in risk for women who used one of the four methods, epidemiologist Linda Cook said.
What’s not clear is how the use of such products might be linked to the development of ovarian cancer.
“We have a real gap in our knowledge,” Cook said. “It has been suggested that particles or fibers in these powder products can move up the reproductive tract and actually deposit on the ovaries. However, that’s not been clearly established.”