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Talcum Powder

Talcum powder bottle openFor nearly 40 years, scientists and researchers have closely studied the possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer in women. Moreover, as many as six scientific studies have isolated a correlation between the use of talcum powder by women and the subsequent development of epithelial ovarian cancer, prompting many to consider whether the product should be pulled from the shelves – or at least contain a thorough warning label.

Nonetheless, talcum powder manufacturers continue to market the product as a safe and reliable way to reduce moisture and prevent friction, encouraging women to use the product as part of their daily hygiene routine. As a result, dozens of lawsuits against product makers like Johnson & Johnson have emerged, most of which allege a failure to warn of the known risks of cancer associated with the products, which have been on the market for decades.

What is talcum powder?

Talcum powder is derived from talc, a naturally-occurring mineral with soft, absorbent properties. Its composition includes the elements magnesium, silicon and oxygen. Talcum powder is created by crushing, drying and then milling talc rocks. Since its introduction in the 1930’s, talcum powder has been marketed as a way to absorb moisture on the skin, and is perhaps most widely known as Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder.

Talc is also commonly used in the following household and hygiene products:

  • Face powder, eye shadow and lipstick
  • Soap
  • Deodorant
  • Feminine care products
  • Adult body powder
  • Home and garden pesticides
  • Antacids
  • Chalk and crayons
  • Paint
  • Paper

Up until the 1970’s talcum powder actually contained the dangerous carcinogen asbestos, which is widely-known to cause the lung cancer known as mesothelioma. Since the discovery of the dangers of asbestos, this ingredient has been completely eliminated from the manufacturing process.

Talcum powder use linked to ovarian cancer

Despite its seemingly benign appearance and sweet-smelling aroma, talcum powder may potentially be linked with the illness and deaths of thousands of women. According to several studies, microscopic particles of talc are known to travel into a woman’s reproductive system and reach the ovaries – causing cell deformation and, eventually, cancer.

In a 2003 analysis of the dangers of talcum powder, researchers compiled the data of 16 separate studies. Alarmingly, these studies revealed a 30 percent increase in the onset of ovarian cancer among regular talcum powder users. While the overall risk of a woman developing ovarian cancer in her lifetime is approximately two percent, this 30 percent increased chance could present a serious link between talcum products and the development of this deadly condition.

It is important to note that the increased risk of ovarian cancer is linked only to those who use the product in the genital area, and there are no reported studies tending to show a link between ovarian cancer and use of talcum powder on other areas of the body. Moreover, studies reveal that the possible dangers of talcum powder are, so far, mostly limited to the development of a type of cancer known as epithelial cancer. However, researchers have uncovered a possible “elevated” risk of other types of ovarian cancers, including invasive serous, endometrioid, and clear cell tumors.

Has the FDA issued a response?

To date, the FDA has engaged in limited involvement with regard to the possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. This is not to imply, however, that it is unaware of the risks. In fact, in 1993 the Acting Associate Commissioner for Legislative Affairs of the Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged that several studies had identified a correlation between talcum powder use in the genital area and ovarian cancer. However, the Commissioner stated that the FDA was “not considering to ban, restrict or require a warning statement on the label of talc containing products.”

In 2008, the Cancer Prevention Coalition submitted a petition to the FDA urging it to, at a minimum, affix a warning label to the product. The petition was joined by the Organic Consumers Association, the International Association for Humanitarian Medicine, and Dr. Faye Williams of the National Congress of Black Women and urged the FDA to place the following warning on talcum-containing products: “Frequent application of talcum powder in the female genital area substantially increases the risk of ovarian cancer.”

The petition was ignored, and no response was ever offered.

Talcum powder litigation continues

As a result of the widespread coverage possibly linking talcum powder to the fourth-leading type of cancer in women, plaintiffs across the United States are challenging talcum powder manufacturers in court – seeking answers as to why consumers not warned of the deadly effects of this product.

One of the first talc cancer lawsuits against baby powder maker Johnson & Johnson was filed in South Dakota, and resulted in a finding in favor of the plaintiff. Specifically, the jury found that Johnson & Johnson failed to warn consumers of possible ovarian cancer risks and, as a result, the plaintiff continued to use the “Shower to Shower” hygiene product for over 30 years.

Since then, baby powder lawsuits have appeared in New Jersey, California, Georgia and various other jurisdictions. A class action lawsuit against Johnson and Johnson is also ongoing and consists of Missouri residents who have used the product in the past five years. These plaintiffs are seeking restitution and punitive damages under Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act, as well as efforts by Johnson & Johnson to correct their advertising campaigns to warn consumers of the risks.