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Study Links Asbestos-Contaminated Talc to 75 Cases of Mesothelioma

Asbestos-Contaminated Cosmetic Talcum Powder

A recent study has linked 75 cases of mesothelioma to exposure to asbestos-contaminated talcum powder. The retrospective study detailed confirmed cases among men and women. Four different types of mesothelioma were found among study participants.

It is not uncommon for talcum powder to be contaminated with asbestos. The two minerals naturally occur near each other. When mining for talc, asbestos may become mixed into the otherwise safe material. Awareness of asbestos in makeup due to contaminated talc has grown in recent years. As a result, there have been many product recalls. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also working to increase testing of talc-containing products.

Asbestos-Contaminated Talc Caused Various Types of Mesothelioma

Researchers analyzed tissue samples from 75 individuals who experienced low-dose exposure to asbestos-containing talc over an extended period of time. The participants had no other known exposure to asbestos.

Among those studied, the mean exposure duration was 33 years. Actual exposure periods ranged 6 – 65 years. This data validates the long-held claim that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

A pathologist studied the tissue samples to confirm malignant mesothelioma in each person. There were four different types of mesothelioma identified among the group.

Mesothelioma Type Among Study Participants
Type Number of Cases
Pleural Mesothelioma 48
Peritoneal Mesothelioma 23
Pericardial Mesothelioma 1
Testicular Mesothelioma 1

Two participants had pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.

In addition to mesothelioma type, researchers also analyzed mesothelioma cell type. Most participants had epithelioid cell type. This is the most common and treatable mesothelioma cell type.

Mesothelioma Cell Type Among Study Participants
Type Number of Cases
Epithelioid Mesothelioma  51
Biphasic Mesothelioma 13
Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma 8
Lymphohistiocytoid Mesothelioma 2
Poorly Differentiated Mesothelioma 1

Women and Asbestos-Contaminated Cosmetic Talc

Mesothelioma is more common in men than women. Men were most likely to hold high-risk asbestos occupations and suffer from related conditions.

However, research has shown higher mesothelioma incidence among women in cases of secondary exposure. This was because men returned home from work with asbestos on their hair, skin and clothing.

Women also have a higher incidence of asbestos exposure due to use of cosmetic talc. Of the 75 subjects included in the study, there were 64 women and 11 men. Researchers attribute this disparity to women using cosmetic talc more often than men.

Mesothelioma Type Among Female Participants
Type Percentage of Cases*
Pleural Mesothelioma 63%
Peritoneal Mesothelioma 33%
Pericardial Mesothelioma 1.5%
Pleural and Peritoneal Mesothelioma 1.5%

*Percentages were calculated from study data but are approximate.

Differences in Asbestos Fiber and Patient Age in Talc-Related Mesothelioma

This study is the second analyzing mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc. The first reported 33 cases of talc-related mesothelioma. Between the two studies, there are 108 cases of mesothelioma linked to repeated exposure to cosmetic talc.

Researchers found mesothelioma caused by talc differed from other cases of the cancer by:

  • Type of asbestos fiber that caused exposure
  • Patient age at diagnosis

One of the more striking differences noted by researchers was the younger age at diagnosis among those exposed to asbestos via talc. The study reports an average age at diagnosis 11 years younger than the typical age at diagnosis.

Mesothelioma Data for Talc-Related Cases vs. General Cases
Talc-Related Cases
  • Average age at diagnosis: 61 years old
  • Patients younger than 45 years old: 16%
General Cases*
  • Average age at diagnosis: 72 years old
  • Patients younger than 45 years old: 3%

*The general mesothelioma data is from Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) reports.

The actual age range of patients impacted by asbestos-contaminated tac was 14 – 94 years old.

Earlier exposure periods among patients with talc-related diagnoses may be the cause of the younger age of patients at diagnosis when compared to occupationally exposed individuals. Other researchers theorize the type of asbestos fiber may lead to the younger diagnoses.

Researchers analyzed asbestos fibers from 11 of the 75 study participants. They concluded these individuals were exposed to anthophyllite and tremolite asbestos fibers. Tremolite and anthophyllite asbestos fibers are part of the amphibole asbestos group. Fibers in this group are needle-like. When compared to other forms of the mineral, researchers have noted less exposure to amphibole asbestos may cause asbestos-related diseases.

These findings are consistent with fibers present in contaminated cosmetic talc. Studies have proven tremolite, anthophyllite and chrysotile asbestos fibers are most commonly found in talc.

Occupational exposure most commonly occurs from chrysotile, amosite and/or crocidolite asbestos fibers.

How These Findings May Impact Future Mesothelioma Diagnoses

Based on their results, researchers recommend further studies to validate their report. Although this was the largest study completed on cosmetic talc and mesothelioma, it was retrospective and uncontrolled. As a result, researchers note the study’s accuracy may be limited. A large-scale controlled study could estimate the risk of asbestos-related disease following repeated, long-term exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc.

Researchers also noted cosmetic talc is currently largely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They suggest strict regulation may be necessary, due to the poor prognosis and relatively short life expectancy related to mesothelioma. Regulations or switching to safer talc alternatives, like corn starch, may result in a decrease of talc-related mesothelioma.

The FDA Works to Expand Testing for Asbestos in Talc

The FDA is working to improve testing of asbestos-contaminated talc. In September 2018, the FDA began a one-year contract with AMA Analytical Services, Inc. (AMA) to test talc products for asbestos.

On March 9, 2020, the FDA released a three-part report detailing the results of the testing. Of the products tested, AMA reported:

  • 43 products did not contain asbestos
  • Nine products contained asbestos fibers

All nine instances of asbestos contamination were immediately reported to the public.

In the March 9 report, the FDA also announced plans to continue contracting with AMA for the blind testing of 50 products throughout 2020. This is in line with the FDA’s efforts to establish better testing for asbestos in talc and prevent exposure.

The results from this year-long testing period will be released in early 2021. It is unclear if the coronavirus pandemic will impact the completion of the second round of AMA testing.