Study finds talcum powder use may increase carcinogenic outcomes, including ovarian cancer.
Talc, the mineral used in Johnson & Johnson’s iconic baby powder (or talcum powder), has been used for a number of different reasons in various products and for numerous years; however, some researchers now speculate that its use may be related to ovarian cancer. According to Public Radio International (PRI), more than 1,200 women from across the United States are now suing this pharmaceutical company for failing to warn consumers of the possible association between ovarian cancer and talc.1
Although their products fail to exhibit warning labels, Johnson & Johnson’s website does clearly state that their baby powder contains talc, a mineral made up mainly of the elements magnesium, silicon and oxygen. It also explains that the company offers an alternative version to the talcum-based baby powder made with cornstarch.
“Multiple scientific and regulatory reviews have determined that talc is safe for use in cosmetic products and the labeling on Johnson’s Baby Powder is appropriate,” argued Carol Goodrich, Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman, in a statement.
Alleged Cancer-Causing Agents
After contentions arose suggesting that the ingredient talc causes cancer, researchers have conducted numerous tests on animals to explore this potential. The results of these tests have shown that talc can indeed cause tumors in some animals, while in others it does not. Similarly, studies that have explored this link directly in women who have used talc-based feminine hygiene products also had mixed results, according to NBC News.2
Experts believe that, if true, the possibility of talc causing ovarian cancer would stem from the powder particles (applied to the genital area or on sanitary napkins, diaphragms or condoms) traveling through the vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes to the ovary.3 Dating back to 1971, The Lancet journal was the first publication to release findings detailing that the majority of ovarian tumors had particles of talc deeply embedded in them.4
“Initially, the talc was contaminated with asbestos, which was inhaled when the talc was being applied. Efforts have been made to get rid of the asbestos, however, the risk has not decreased,” confirmed Scott Schreiber, DC, a chiropractic physician and licensed dietitian/nutritionist at Delaware Back Pain and Sports Rehabilitation Center in Newark, Del. “The World Health Organization has dubbed talc powder as possibly carcinogenic and many studies have confirmed the risk. My advice to my patients as well as the general public-use a towel! It is not worth the risk.”
Confirming Schreiber’s thoughts, the American Cancer Society notes on its website that some talc in its natural form does contain asbestos, commonly known to cause cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled.3
“All talcum products used in homes in the United States have been asbestos-free since the 1970s,” the American Cancer Society explained. “For any individual woman, if there is an increased risk, the overall increase is likely to be very small. Still, talc is widely used in many products, so it is important to determine if the increased risk is real. Research in this area continues.”
In February 2016, the family of Jacqueline Fox, who died from ovarian cancer last October, was awarded $72 million by a jury. Fox was a daily user of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and talc-based Shower to Shower. Then, later this year on May 1, a second lawsuit was filed by a South Dakota woman who survived ovarian cancer. A Missouri jury ordered the company to pay the woman $55 million.
Johnson & Johnson has announced its plans to appeal these decisions, claiming scientific information confirms the falsehood behind these lawsuits. Aside from these specific trials, the company is currently fighting approximately 1,200 other lawsuits contending that it knew about cancer risks but did not warn consumers.
Ovarian cancer is known to affect roughly 21,000 U.S. women each year, but healthcare professionals have not yet identified what causes the majority of these cases. Although it is nearly impossible to conclude that any individual’s cancer was solely caused by one contributing factor, if the dangers of talc are proven then Johnson & Johnson could face thousands more lawsuits in the years to come.
1. PRI. A Jury Has Found What Science Still Has Not: A Link Between Baby Powder and Cancer.
2. NBC News. Johnson & Johnson Case: Can Talcum Powder Really Cause Cancer?
3. American Cancer Society. Talcum Powder and Cancer.
4. Aronovitz Law. Links Between Talcum Powder and Risk of Developing Ovarian Cancer Studied.