Talcum Powder Ovarian Cancer Lawsuit News – What’s the Truth?

talcum powder and ovarian cancerThe talc lawsuit news proving the link between baby or adult talcum powder and ovarian cancer has shaken the nerves of common consumers. It’s indeed terrible to learn that a simple and seemingly one of the most popular and commonly used hygiene products like talcum powder can cause havoc to women’s health and lead them to death. Johnson & Johnson, a leading manufacturer of this popular product has already incurred a fine of $55 million in only a single case against their product and still a number of other cases against them are pending in different courts. What is the truth behind the lawsuits? Let’s see.

The connection between Johnson & Johnson talcum powder and ovarian cancer was found in 1971 after a study in which talc particles were found in the ovarian tissues of patients of ovarian cancer. However, the talc manufacturers and Johnson & Johnson fought against these observations and managed to market their product for 40 more years. They didn’t even publish any warning or restriction on their product.

What is the Connection between Talc and Ovarian Cancer?

Talc is a mineral which mainly comprises of silicon, magnesium and oxygen. When it is turned to powder form, it can soak up moisture and decrease friction. This powder form, i.e. talcum powder is used widely to keep skin dry and also stay away from rashes. However, when it is used on genitals, the talc particles enter ovaries and remain there for years. They can give rise to inflammation and can develop ovarian cancer cells.

The report published in the Cancer Prevention Research, a leading medical journal, suggests that women regularly using talc-based products for feminine hygiene may have a 41% increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.

After the 1971 study, lots of other studies came into limelight indicating the connection between the hygiene product and ovarian cancer. A study done in 1992 found that using baby powder regularly increased the risk of the disease threefold. Next in 2010, it was concluded in a Harvard study that the baby powder is carcinogenic (causing cancer) for humans. However, the talc product continued to be in the market without regulations and without any caution from the manufacturers.


Deane Berg was the first to file a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson for their product causing ovarian cancer to her. Ms. Berg was 49 when she was diagnosed with the cancer and with an urge to know the reason, she browsed through websites that told her about the potential triggers of ovarian cancer. One of them attracted her attention and it was talcum powder because she didn’t have other risk factors like endometriosis or infertility; but she was using the baby powder everyday between her legs for the last 3 decades. When she filed the lawsuit she also pointed to a prolonged trail of researches linking the talc to the disease. This was the 1971 research done by researchers in Wales in which talc particles were discovered trapped in cervical and ovarian tumors.

And then opened a series of studies proving strong links between ovarian cancer and the genital usage of talc. These also included a report just this month saying that the genital use of talcum powder among Afro-American women increased the risk of invasive epithelial ovarian cancer by 44%.

Johnson & Johnson claims that their powder is risk-free and they are planning to appeal the two multi-million dollar jury awards, $55 million awarded to a survivor of cancer earlier in May and a $72 million award given in February.

In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer categorized talcum powder as a potential human carcinogen if dusted in the female genitals. However, the agency, which is a part of the WHO, has said also that coffee and pickled vegetables are also possible carcinogens and also that hot dogs are also possible causes of cancer.

The comment from Johnson & Johnson says that the research blaming talcum powder is faulty and points to research in which talc is spared of any cancer risk.

So, now it has become extremely difficult to decide what the truth is.

Doctors at recognized universities too are of opinion that that there is no means to find out if exposure is necessarily causing the disease. They say that in some cases, we can be 99% sure but usually there is no way to guarantee.

Another thing to consider is cancer is a disease that develops over a prolonged period of time and is affected by numerous factors, like genes, environmental exposures and behaviors. Therefore it is best to wait till any strong evidence comes forth.

Talc being soft and a great absorber of moisture, is used in many cosmetics like blush. It’s even added to chewing gums, tablets and some types of rice. The problem is it’s usually mined nearby asbestos, a notorious carcinogen, and actually manufacturers should take measures to stop contamination. The product is widely used by women on their inner thighs to avoid chafing and some women also dust the powder on their perineum, underwear and sanitary pads so as to keep them fresh, odor-free and dry.

There never has been a study by exposing women deliberately to observe what happens upon the exposure and it will never be, and so, the researchers will have to rely only upon observations to find if there is an association of the product to the ovarian cancer. However, they cannot decide upon a cause-and-effect connection.

A 1982 study done by Dr. Daniel W. Cramer, a Harvard professor, and his colleagues, compared 215 ovarian cancer patient women with 215 healthy women. The findings said that women who used talcum powder had almost twice the risk of suffering from the disease as compared to non-users. It was also found that women who used the powder on their sanitary pads and genitals were at more than thrice the risk.

At least 10 studies that followed inferred the same results with a little variation in increased risk. However, a small number of researches didn’t find any heightened risk for those who used the talc.

As per dermatologists, the lawsuits on talcum powders are interesting because they are related to something that’s not necessary; so, they are of opinion that if you have a doubt about a product, why to use it!


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