Talcum powder is very popular for a variety of personal uses because of its ability to absorb moisture and to reduce chafing. It has for decades been used to change diapers for babies, and many women have used it for years for feminine hygiene purposes.
However, in the last several years, Johnson and Johnson, a maker of some of the top selling baby powders has been in the news because of the possibility that the product is contributing to ovarian cancer in thousands of American women. It is a very contentious issue and the connection between cancer and the powder is not conclusive, but there is enough evidence for juries to find in favor of plaintiffs in many cases.
Huge Cancer Verdict for $70 Million in 2016
In 2016, a St. Louis, MO jury voted in favor of plaintiff Deborah Giannecchini, awarding her $70 million to bring an end to a lawsuit that she brought against J&J under the accusation that using the product for female hygiene for many years had led to ovarian cancer.
While some cases were thrown out because of insufficient evidence, others ended in a similar verdict as the above case. J&J was required to pay many millions to the families of victims.
It has to be said that a lawsuit’s result does not show whether the product is or is not causing ovarian cancer; this is left to science. But the jury in Giannecchini’s case found sufficient scientific evidence to conclude that J&J had lied to the public as it kept possible links between ovarian cancer and baby powder hidden.
The plaintiffs in the above case argued that the company knew since 1971 that there was a link between the powder and ovarian cancer. Since the 1980s, the lawsuit documents stated, the company had been warned by scientists that it should warn consumers of the possible danger, but it never did.
J&J has stated in response that many scientific and regulatory reviews have found that talcum powder is safe for use in all cosmetic products. It could not explain why company documents showed that the company had hidden information about a possible cancer link with baby powder.
There could be more big damage awards coming down the pike against J&J. But it should be remembered that these big jury awards are nearly always appealed, and they are vulnerable to being cut down or thrown out.
Evidence of the Link
According to some experts, there is a significant amount of literature that suggests there could be a link between the genital use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Below is a quick summary of some of this research.
- Many researchers state that talcum powder and baby powder do cause ovarian cancer. However, it is not really possible to ask women to test baby powder for many years on their genitals to determine if they can get tumors. So it is difficult to get definitive data on this question.
- Some lab studies have found that exposing animals to talcum powder did cause an increase in the formation of tumors, but others did not show the same results. Also, some studies of women who self reported using talcum powder showed a small increase in ovarian cancer risk. Other studies did not show an increase in risk.
- A 1999 study in the International Journal of Cancer stated that avoiding the use of talcum powder on the genitals among women could cut the risk for ovarian cancer by 10% or more.
- Also, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has stated that it considers the genital use of talcum powder to be a possible carcinogen for humans, but the evidence at this time is still unclear.
- It is interesting to note that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not advise using baby powder on babies. It is not because of a link between the powder and cancer, but because there is a fear that babies could inhale the powder and damage the lungs.
- The American Cancer Society does say that talcum powder is a risk factor for ovarian cancer, but they only state there is an indirect link at best. The organization has said that some studies indicate there is a small increase in risk for ovarian cancer for women who use the powder on the genital area.
- Patient advocacy groups, on the other hand, are much less measured in their contention that talcum powder causes cancer. In 2010, the chair of the Cancer Prevention Coalition stated publicly that mortality for ovarian cancer in black women had increased by 47% in those over age 65 and 13% in white women, and that this was due to the use of talcum powder on the genitals.
Asbestos and Talcum Powder
There is no question that older versions of talcum powder that contained asbestos could cause cancer. When talc was mined, it often was mixed with asbestos, which is a deadly carcinogen that can cause mesothelioma and other deadly cancers.
But modern talc is supposed to have all traces of asbestos removed. A 2009 and 2010 study by FDA found not a tract of asbestos in any of the many cosmetics that it tested, including J&J Baby Powder. FDA did point out that the study only looked at 34 products, so the study did not show for certain that most talc containing cosmetics are entirely free of asbestos.
Talcum Powder Cancer History
There has been speculation that talcum powder might be related to ovarian since the 1960s. Some scientists believe that talc that is applied to the vagina could eventually reach the ovaries and cause the organs to become inflamed. This would be similar to the effect that asbestos has on lung tissue. Over time, the lungs work to rid itself of the shards of asbestos and cannot. This eventually leads to inflammation and damage to the DNA of the cells, which causes mesothelioma.
But the process by which an inflammation of the ovaries could lead to cancer is not understood. There also have not been any studies that showed a link between the use of diaphragms or condoms dusted with talc posed a higher risk of cancer.
Scientists are continuing to study the possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the #5 most fatal cancer for women. It is the cause of more deaths of women than any other female reproductive system cancer. In 2016, 22,000 women were believed to have received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
Any woman who used talcum powder or baby powder on their genitals for any length of time and has ovarian cancer would be well served to be evaluated by a doctor right away.
There is enough evidence of a possible link between the product and cancer that it is worth investigating. Once you have been examined by a doctor and have a firm diagnosis, you may want to consult with a talcum powder or baby powder lawsuit attorney to determine your legal remedies. Women who can prove that they have ovarian cancer and can prove that they used talc on their genitals for a long period of time may be entitled to compensation.