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Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Does regular baby powder use around the genital area increase the risk of specific types of cancer? Researchers have been examining the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer for years, and while some findings have been inconclusive, others have shown a statistically significant risk among women who use talc-based products for feminine hygiene purposes. Some experts speculate that talcum powder, which is made from hydrated magnesium silicate, has chemical properties akin to asbestos, a known carcinogen tied to mesothelioma.

A number of talcum powder lawsuits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson, manufacturer of the trademarked Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, alleging insufficient warnings were given about health risks when using their products around the perineal area. Research on dangerous talc side effects has been available for more than forty years, though awareness about ovarian cancer risks is only recently gaining traction in light of recent litigation, media coverage and publicized studies on the topic.

Talcum powder and ovarian cancer risks

Sold for manufacturing purposes, personal hygiene and cosmetic uses, talc is generally considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For decades Americans have been using baby powder and other talc-based products, marketed under varying brand names, as a means to prevent infant diaper rash and keep skin dry and irritation free. Talcum powder helps wick away moisture on the skin’s surface, thus reducing friction and potential skin issues.

As early as 1971, however, research has shown the carcinogenic effects of talc use around the genital area. One recent class action suit brought against Johnson & Johnson states that at least 21 medical studies have been conducted over the last 30 years that reveal an elevated risk for ovarian cancer with prolonged genital talc use. Some study authors surmise that talc particles can translocate from the exterior genital area through the female reproductive system, resulting in ovarian inflammation and the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells.

In a 1983 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers from the National Cancer Institute and George Washington University Medical Center found that women who applied talcum powder in the perineal region had a 150% increased risk of ovarian cancer. In a separate case-controlled study in 1988, talcum powder use for female hygiene was linked to a 40 percent increased risk for ovarian cancer.

Other human trials have found a smaller epidemiologic connection between the use of cosmetic talc in genital hygiene and ovarian cancer, but questions raised by thousands of consumers remains the same. Did talcum powder manufacturers knowingly hide health risks of their products from the American public? Did they fail to give proper warnings and engage in fraudulent concealment?

Statistics gathered by The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance show that ovarian cancer claimed the lives of more than 14,000 American women in 2013. According to Dr. Daniel Cramer, a gynecologist and Harvard professor, a large portion of these deaths may have been caused by talc use in the genital area. Cramer – who provided expert testimony in a talc cancer lawsuit against J&J last year — maintains that some ten percent of all ovarian cancer cases in the U.S. are related to the use of talcum powder.

A more recent 2013 meta-analysis published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research revealed that regular use of talc powder for feminine hygiene increased the risk of an ovarian tumor by 24 percent. But nowhere on J&J’s Baby Powder or other similar product labels are consumers warned of this threat.

Ovarian cancer known as the silent killer

One of the most disheartening aspects of ovarian cancer is that victims rarely experience tell-tale symptoms until after the disease is fairly advanced.

Other than prolonged talcum powder use around the genital area, other risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • Obesity (BMI over 30)
  • Age – 50 percent of all ovarian tumors occur in patients age 63 and older
  • Estrogen or hormone therapy
  • History of smoking
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Genetic mutations
  • Reproductive history and age when menstruation began
  • Family history of ovarian cancer

Early stage cancer of the ovaries seldom manifests with noticeable symptoms. Being aware of subtle signs is key for early detection.

Early signs of ovarian cancer may include:

  • Pain in the pelvic region
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Constipation or signs mimicking IBS
  • Frequent urination

The prognosis for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer depends largely on the stage at which it is caught, and whether the disease has spread outside of the abdomen. Treatment methods typically include surgical intervention (known as debulking surgery) to remove cancerous tissue along with the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus – an operation which ends any possibility of future children. Adjunctive chemotherapy can help kill remaining cancer cells.

Litigation concerning talc and cancer risks

Women who believe their ovarian cancer was caused by talc use may be entitled to financial recovery through the courts. The first such baby powder lawsuit was settled by J&J in 2013, perhaps setting a precedent for future litigation.

Product liability attorneys specializing in talc cases continue to review claims that manufacturers neglected to alert consumers of ovarian health risks when talcum powder is used for feminine hygiene purposes. Monetary awards recovered through the courts can recoup damages for associated medical bills, lost income, emotional anguish, lost marital consortium and other forms of non-economic damages.

  1. Cancer Prevention Research, Genital powder use and risk of ovarian cancer: a pooled analysis of 8,525 cases and 9,859 controls,

  2., Talcum Powder and Cancer

  3. Mayo Clinic, Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

  4. Daily Mail Online, Women who regularly use talcum powder increase their risk of ovarian cancer by 24%