Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Talcum powder is made from a soft mineral known as talc. It is widely used in a number of household products, including shampoos, toothpaste, baby powder and body powders, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Shower to Shower and Johnson’s Baby Powder.  Unfortunately, there is growing evidence that talcum powder may cause cancer of both the lungs and the ovaries.

For years, many talcum powders contained asbestos, a known carcinogen of the lungs. Asbestos was banned in talcum powder in the 1970s, but people who used talcum powder before it was banned may develop lung cancers many years later, including a rare cancer known as mesothelioma. Moreover, it is possible that some talcum powders continued to contain asbestos after the ban.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies talc which contains asbestos as “carcinogenic to humans,” but there is evidence that even asbestos-free talc (“cosmetic grade talc”) may be hazardous.
A growing number of studies associate use of talcum powder with ovarian cancer, the fifth leading cause of cancer related deaths for women in the United States. As early as 1971, talcum particles were reported as being found in ovarian tumors, and in 1982 an epidemiology study was published  associating ovarian cancer with talcum powder. Since then, several other studies have been published reporting an increased risk of ovarian cancer of about one third among women using talcum powder. One recent study published in 2016 reported a much higher risk of developing ovarian cancer among African-American women who regularly used talcum powders, 40% among those who used it for feminine hygiene, and 30% among those with only non-genital use. Joellen M. Schildkraut, et al., Association Between Body Powder Use and Ovarian Cancer: the African- American Cancer Epidemiology Study (AACES), published online: http:/cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2016/05/12/1055-9965.EPI-15-1281.abstract.

Because of concerns about health risks associated with talcum powder, the European Union has banned its use in cosmetics, while Canada has restricted its use in baby products.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), classifies genital use of talcum powder as a “possible human carcinogen.”  “In 1996, the condom industry stopped dusting condoms with talc, and in 2006, J&J’s main talc supplier began giving the company warning information about talc.” (D. Zhang, J&J Hid Dangers of Talc Powder for Decades,” June 2016 available online http://www.justice.org/magazine-article/trial/2016-june…) The NCI (National Cancer Institute) lists talcum usage as a risk factor for ovarian cancer, NCI, A Snapshot of Ovarian Cancer (https://www.cancer.gov/research/progress/snapshots/ovarian) while the Canadian Cancer Society classifies “using talc on the genitals” as a “possible risk factor” for this disease. Canadian Cancer Society, Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer, are available online: http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-type/ovarian/risks/.

Manufacturers of talcum powders such as Johnson & Johnson have never warned about any possible risks of ovarian cancer associated with using their products, although their labels now warn about inhaling powder.  Johnson & Johnson failed to include any warnings about ovarian cancer or genital use on their products even though its officers were aware of various studies linking talcum powder with cancer. Indeed, Johnson & Johnson marketed its talcum powder products as gentle, safe and effective, and encouraged women to sprinkle talcum powder on their genitals, underwear and sanitary pads, with slogans such as “A sprinkle a day helps keep odor away.” Johnson & Johnson manufactured and sold baby and body powders containing talcum powder even though it knew that cornstarch, which was not linked to any kind of cancer, could be used instead of talcum powder. In fact, it distributed both kinds of products, and some of its products contained both talcum and cornstarch.

Thousands of women with ovarian cancer have brought lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, and three of the last four cases to go to trial have resulted in multi-million dollar verdicts against the company. In 2016, juries in St. Louis, Missouri award verdicts against Johnson & Johnson for $55 million, $70 million and $72 million.

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