When talking about whether or not talcum powder is linked to cancer, it is important to distinguish between talc that contains asbestos and talc that is asbestos-free. Talc that has asbestos is generally accepted as being able to cause cancer if it is inhaled. The evidence about asbestos-free talc is less clear.
Researchers use 2 main types of studies to try to figure out if a substance or exposure causes cancer.
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Lab studies: In studies done in the lab, animals are exposed to a substance (often in very large doses) to see if it causes tumors or other health problems.
Researchers might also expose normal cells in a lab dish to the substance to see if it causes the types of changes that are seen in cancer cells. It’s not always clear if the results from these types of studies will apply to humans, but lab studies are a good way to find out if a substance might possibly cause cancer.
Studies in people: Another type of study looks at cancer risks among different groups of people. Such a study might compare the cancer risk in a group exposed to a substance to the risk in a group not exposed to it, or compare it to what would be expected in the general population. But sometimes it can be hard to know what the results of these studies mean because many other factors might affect the results.
In most cases, neither type of study provides enough evidence on its own, so researchers usually look at both lab-based and human studies when trying to figure out if something causes cancer.