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Talcum powder, or baby powder, is a common and seemingly harmless personal hygiene product. But evidence is growing that regular, long-term use of talcum powder can lead to an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Some women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are filing lawsuits and winning in court, proving that companies like Johnson & Johnson were negligent in failing to warn consumers of the risks.
What is Talcum Powder?
- Talcum powder, also known as baby powder, is a hygiene product made from a natural mineral called talc.
- Talc is a mineral that contains mostly silicon, magnesium, and oxygen.
- People have used talc for thousands of years but it only became widespread in the U.S. in the late 1800s.
- Because the particles are very fine when ground up, talc provides a smooth texture in hygiene products.
- It is used in makeup and other beauty products to improve absorption and texture.
- Talcum powder and baby powder are often used by consumers to absorb moisture and to reduce friction.
Asbestos in Talc – Is it a Possible Cause of Ovarian Cancer?
Talc, because it is a natural mineral, often contains traces of other minerals. Asbestos is one of these additional minerals. Asbestos is a known carcinogen. Accidentally inhaling, ingesting, or otherwise taking in fibers of asbestos can lead to tissue damage and cancer in some people.
While mesothelioma is the cancer most often associated with asbestos, there is growing evidence that trace amounts of the mineral in talcum powder could trigger other types of cancer, including ovarian cancer in women.
The Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association adopted guidelines in 1976 to ensure that talc products would not contain asbestos. The guidelines were voluntary and stated that any asbestos found in natural talc would be removed so that consumer products would not have any detectable levels.
In spite of the guidelines, studies since the 1970s have found that talcum powder does still often contain the contaminant. One study tested several products and found that many contained asbestos that could easily be inhaled by anyone using them.
Talcum Baby Powder and Ovarian Cancer
There are clear associations between long-term and regular use of talcum powder on the genitals and ovarian cancer in women. The presence of asbestos, a known human carcinogen, is a reasonable explanation for how this product could lead to ovarian cancer.
- One study of note compared talcum powder use and rates of ovarian cancer in over 1,000 women. It compared the personal hygiene habits of nearly 600 women with ovarian cancer and about 700 healthy women. The study found that regular use of talcum powder on the genitals increased the risk of developing ovarian cancer by 44 percent. The lifetime risk of ovarian cancer for women who used talcum powder was significantly higher than for those who did not.
- Also important was a study that investigated how talc could cause ovarian cancer. Researchers found particles of talc when they examined tissue from ovarian tumors. This indicates that talc particles may migrate from the external genital area all the way to the ovaries.
- A recent study reported at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology found specific gene mutations in the cancer cells of ovarian tumors that were triggered by talc particles. The impact first occurred in cells of the fallopian tubes. This important piece of information supports the idea that talc may trigger ovarian cancer because it was already suspected that ovarian cancer begins in the fallopian tubes.
Are Ovarian Cancer Victims Getting Justice?
In recent years women who developed ovarian cancer after decades of using baby powder products have been suing the companies responsible, most notably Johnson & Johnson.
An important piece of evidence arose during a trial on behalf of Jackie Fox, a woman who died from ovarian cancer. Her family sued Johnson & Johnson and won a jury-awarded settlement of $72 million.
The family’s legal team presented evidence that the company knew there was a link between using baby powder and developing ovarian cancer. An internal memo made it clear the company was aware of the risk but continued selling the product with no warnings to consumers.
That case has been followed by many more, including a big win for 22 women who together filed a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson. The jury awarded $4.7 billion to the women, which included $4.14 in punitive damages to the company for failing to warn consumers of the risks of ovarian cancer from using their products.
Two other recent lawsuits, one in New York and one in California, ended in wins for the plaintiffs, both of whom developed mesothelioma after decades of talcum powder use:
- One woman was awarded $325 million, one of the largest amounts Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay over talcum powder.
- The other woman received compensatory damages totaling $12 million from Johnson & Johnson as well as Colgate-Palmolive and Avon.
There is a very real possibility that talcum powder can increase the risk and even cause the development of ovarian cancer in women who have used it for a long time. The risk is greater with longer period of use and greater regularity of use of baby powder. Women need to know about this risk so they can make the right choice for hygiene. Companies like Johnson & Johnson are increasingly being held to account for asbestos and ovarian cancer, but the risk is still real and present.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.