Have You Developed Ovarian Cancer After Using Talcum Powder?
Recent studies have shown that repetitive use of talcum powder over the years may increase the risk of ovarian cancer in women. If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and you believe it's related to the repeated use of talcum powder, please call us immediately at 1-800-567-HURT (4878) or use the form below:
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Can Talcum Powder cause Cancer?
“Can talcum powder cause cancer?” seems a straightforward question that people and scientists are asking now. In February 2015, a jury in Missouri, USA, answered with a resounding “Yes”, to the tune of $72 million in damages in a ruling against the Johnson and Johnson pharmaceutical company. The settlement was given after the jury determined that the talcum powder in the hygiene products used for decades by the 62-year-old woman in the case contributed to her death from ovarian cancer. The problem, the jurors stated, was that Johnson and Johnson failed to disclose that the talc carried an ovarian-cancer warning.
Even more recently, in May 2016, another plaintiff in Missouri was awarded $55 million in damages against Johnson and Johnson, for the contribution of their talcum powder-based products to her ovarian cancer, which is now in remission.
But, as with many questions to do with science, the answer to whether talcum powder causes cancer is not really as simple as first seems. The practice of science is not an exact, well, science, and scientists disagree on the impacts of talc on cancer.
Talcum powder is made from a mineral called talc, the softest mineral on earth, which is composed of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. In powder form, talc has properties that absorb moisture that make it useful for keeping skin dry. An unwelcome inclusion in talc in its natural form is asbestos, but all refined talcum products in North America have been asbestos-free since the 1970s.
Talc and cancer
As talc in its raw form contains asbestos, there has been concern that miners and talc millers inhaling it in the long-term may increase their risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. It’s difficult to separate out the risks from talc and asbestos from the other occupational hazards these workers encounter, such as radon, and scientific investigations return mixed results ranging from no risks to a small increased risk of lung cancer.
Recently, talc has come under scrutiny for its possible impact on ovarian cancer; there is no current scientific evidence that it contributes to an increased risk of any other type of cancer.
Talc in personal hygiene
Many people sprinkle on talc after showering and think nothing of it; its most common form is in talcum powder for adults and for babies. In addition, talc itself is often an ingredient in feminine hygiene products. Of concern in its link to ovarian cancer is its use by women in their genital area to absorb moisture during the day and to preserve a feeling of freshness. The talcum powder or other talc-based products can be applied directly to the genitals, or indirectly via sanitary napkins, tampons and underwear, and on condoms and diaphragms.
Talc and ovarian cancer
For talc to be linked to ovarian cancer, the particles of powder must travel from the female genital area to the ovaries. The journey is from the vagina, through the uterus and then the fallopian tubes to the ovaries and can be blocked along the way, for example by tubal ligation tying off the fallopian tubes. If the particles of talc powder reach the ovaries, the body has difficulty removing them and inflammation may occur.
The studies carried out on the links between talc and ovarian cancer have resulted in scientists disagreeing about any connection between the two. Starting with the lab studies in which animals were exposed to asbestos-free talc in different ways, the results have been mixed: some animals developed tumors and other did not.
Studies with people as the subjects have also identified varying degrees of risks of cancer when using talcum products repeatedly. Several of the studies have been critiqued as being carried out on too small a sample of subjects or as being biased as they rely on the subjects’ memories of their talcum powder use from several years past. A significant study only included post-menopausal women and a review of eight case-control studies found a link between using genital powders and ovarian cancer, but researchers could not tell from the data reported whether the powders contained talc. Supporters of these scientific studies argue that the studies are large enough and well-conducted to give reliable and valid results. All agree that it’s important to continue the research.
What’s of importance when looking at the scientific studies is to note what they are, in fact, studying. It’s one thing to look at whether talc increases the risk of cancer but quite another to say that talc causes cancer in women using these talc-based products repeatedly.
Overall, the results from scientific studies into the relationship between the use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer suggest that there is a link, an increased risk of contracting the cancer. How large the risk is, and whether it applies to everyone, is still up for debate and argument in the scientific community; some studies report a slight risk increase and others report none. But, significantly, many scientists agree that no-one has carried out a wide-ranging, well-controlled epidemiological study into whether talc can definitively cause ovarian cancer.
The World Health Organization adds to the uncertainty, on the side of caution. In 2010, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer stated that “perineal use of talc-based body powder is possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
Questioning the results
Questions are being asked by non-scientific individuals, groups and organizations as well as other scientists about the research findings. Does the world have to wait for science to prove a causal link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer before the pharmaceutical companies take any action? Is showing that using talcum powder repeatedly in personal hygiene products increases a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer enough to require pharmaceutical companies to, at least, issue a warning on their products? What can women do right now about this?
A substitute for talcum powder
In question here are only personal hygiene products that contain talcum powder and are applied to the female genital area. Talcum powder found in cosmetics or applied on the skin does not pose the same problems. It’s easy to replace talc-based personal hygiene products with those that contain cornstarch instead, for the same benefits but none of the potential hazards.
It’s only very recently that juries have awarded financial damages to plaintiffs whose case involves talc and cancer. In 2013, a federal jury in Sioux Falls, South Dakota found in favor of plaintiff Deane Berg in her case against Johnson & Johnson. Ms Berg claimed the company was negligent in not warning consumers about the dangers of its talcum powder products. However, the jury decided that the company did not have any liability and Ms. Berg was not awarded any financial damages.
Legal experts believe that the two cases discussed in the introduction will open the way to more settlements being awarded as other individual or class action talcum powder lawsuits reach the courtroom.
The studies on talcum powder and ovarian cancer present a range of results that support the argument that talcum powder may indeed have an impact, of some measure, on ovarian cancer. With the two cases in Missouri this year, legal precedents have been set in the US awarding damages due to the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. There are also about 1,200 outstanding lawsuits on this subject, just against Johnson and Johnson.