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Baby Powder, 1,000+ Cancer Lawsuits & Groin Sweat

It’s nearly fall and everywhere folks are back-to-school, back-to-work, and getting serious again. But we’re not here today to talk pencils and backpacks – we’re here to talk about backsides and undersides – sweaty ones

That’s right, whether you’re sitting in a classroom or a boardroom, excessive sweating “down there” makes sitting anything but pretty.

Groin hyperhidrosis is real, and it can be horrifying, but it can also be managed

First, though, the scoop on talcum powder (or baby powder) for sweaty privates. Why? Because many in our community use powders for wetness and perceived odor “down there,” and many more have seen the headlines about the 1,000 lawsuits filed against Johnson & Johnson over potential links between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. As sweat experts, we’ve researched this important subject and are here to share what we know.

In a recent issue of the medical journal Epidemiology, in an article called “The Association between Talc Use and Ovarian Cancer: A Retrospective Case-Control Study in Two US States,”1 researchers asked 2,041 women with ovarian cancer and 2,100 similar women without ovarian cancer about their talcum powder use. They found that genital talc use (talcum powder applied directly to the genital/rectal region or applied to underwear, sanitary napkins, or tampons) was associated with a 33% greater risk of ovarian cancer. The risk increased with years of talc use. The study did not find a greater risk of ovarian cancer with the use of talcum powder on other, non-genital, body parts.

It should be noted that other studies with what scientists call “a more rigorous design” have not found a strong link between talc use and ovarian cancer. And most health agencies (including the CDC) have not declared talc a risk factor for ovarian cancer. But the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has, saying (in 2010) that, “perineal use of talc-based body powder is possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

So, with such conflicting information, the jury is still out about talc and ovarian cancer, and more research is needed.

In terms of hyperhidrosis and groin-sweat-management, where does this leave us? We talked to two dermatologists and hyperhidrosis experts about how best to manage excessive sweating in the groin.

Dr. Adelaide A. Hebert, Professor, University of Texas Medical School at Houston and a founding member of the International Hyperhidrosis Society, says that she has never been a big recommender of talcum powder, except maybe for use on the feet, and never for babies (due to the risk of the child inhaling the powder into the lungs). Light powder use, says Dr. Hebert, if there is no family history of ovarian cancer, on the inner thighs, but not in the genital area, and by men (unless exposure to the genitals of a female sexual partner is a concern) is probably fine.

Still, Dr. Herbert prefers other more effective treatments for groin sweating, such as the oral medications Robinul or oxybutynin (both anticholinergics) or Botox injections. She also sees promise in topical anticholinergics currently in development and encourages patients to consider joining clinical trials to help bring new treatments to market through research. The best way to find hyperhidrosis trials that need patient participants is to watch this news blog, Sweathelp.org/research, and the International Hyperhidrosis Society’s social media.

“We are coming to an era in hyperhidrosis care where there will be alternatives to current medications,” says Dr. Herbert, “offering patients choices they can feel safe using; without having to use talc.”

“It’s not as clear cut [regarding talc and ovarian cancer] as it may seem,” adds Dr. Samantha Hill, a pediatric dermatologist in Virginia, hyperhidrosis expert, and International Hyperhidrosis Society faculty member, “However, because there are non-talc alternatives for sweating, we should avoid talc when possible.” Dr. Hill recommends Botox injections, glycopyrrolate (anticholinergic) topical wipes, oral glycopyrrolate, or the antiperspirant gel Hydrosal to her patients with groin sweating.

Interested in lowering your risk of ovarian cancer?

Physical activity is an important part of cancer prevention and cancer survival, notes the American Institute for Cancer Research,2 while excess body fat can increase ovarian cancer risk.

But most importantly, if ovarian or breast cancer is in your family’s medical history, talk to your doctor about appropriate screening.

The rest of us should consider lifestyle choices that lower our overall cancer risk including adding more exercise to our free time. In a recent analysis of 1.44 million people3, higher physical activity levels were associated with a lower risk of 13 different types of cancer and a 7% lower risk of cancer overall, even among people who were overweight, obese, or smokers.

There’s a big world out there beyond talc – including better hyperhidrosis treatments. Powders are a choice – weigh the benefits versus the potential risks, (recognizing that the science is not yet definitive on either side) -- and make an educated choice. We hope our research and expertise has helped you in that regard.

References:

1. Cramer DW, Vitonis AF, Terry KL, Welch WR, Titus LJ. The Association Between Talc Use and Ovarian Cancer: A Retrospective Case–Control Study in Two US States. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass). 2016;27(3):334-346. doi:10.1097/EDE.0000000000000434. 

2. Inactivity May Increase Ovarian Cancer Risk. American Institute for Cancer Research website http://www.aicr.org/cancer-research-update/2016/07_13/cru_Inactivity-Increases-Ovarian-Cancer-Rsik.html?_ga=1.60949676.1487215134.1463670163. Updated July 16, 2016. Accessed August 1, 2016.

3. Moore SC, Lee I, Weiderpass E, et al. Association of Leisure-Time Physical Activity With Risk of 26 Types of Cancer in 1.44 Million Adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(6):816-825. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1548.

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