Talcum Powder Use Linked to Ovarian Cancer Risk in 1982 Study

If you’ve been following the news recently, you may already be aware of the recent Johnson & Johnson talcum powder lawsuit.  Plaintiffs alleged that genital-area use of Johnson & Johnson talcum powder, or baby powder, led to the development of ovarian cancer.  Johnson & Johnson was aware of the risk involved with the use of its product, yet failed to warn consumers of the danger.  Disturbingly, medical studies on human subjects dating back at least as far as 1982 point to the connection between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, suggesting that the carcinogenic properties of talcum powder were understood – and ignored – for more than 40 years before the family of a wrongful death victim was finally awarded $72 million in February 2016.

Studies Link Talcum Powder with Increased Risk of Ovarian Cancer

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Talcum powder is made from talc, a soft, versatile clay mineral commonly used to create products ranging from makeup to paint to plastic to rubber.  Along with cornstarch, talc is the key ingredient used to make baby powder, which can be used as an air freshener, shampoo, deodorant, or body powder.  

Talcum powder has long been marketed to consumers as a mild, harmless substance: something that was gentle enough to use safely on a baby’s skin.  Unfortunately, this perception of talcum powder – a perception Johnson & Johnson failed to change – is inaccurate.  Studies have shown that when applied to the female perineal area, the risk of ovarian cancer is increased.

This risk was revealed by peer-reviewed research as early as 1982.  That year, the medical journal Cancer – which you can still find in print today – published a study that examined 215 ovarian cancer patients against 215 control women who were cancer-free.  The study participants were matched by factors like race and age to minimize the influence of any factors that could skew the data.

The study found that 92 out of 215 of the cancer patients (42.8%) used talcum powder “regularly,” applying the substance either to sanitary pads or directly onto their bodies.  In the control group, only 61 out of 215 women (28.4%) reported using talcum powder.  These figures reveal that talcum powder use was significantly more prevalent among cancer patients than it was among cancer-free individuals.  According to the study, “This provides some support for an association between talc and ovarian cancer…”

Additional research has emerged since the early 1980s when the Cancer study was published, shedding further light on the connection between talcum powder and ovarian tumors.  For example, a study published in Epidemiology last year revealed that, “Overall, genital talc use was associated with an odds ratio… of 1.33… with a trend for increasing risk by talc-years,” meaning talcum powder users had a 33% greater risk of developing ovarian cancer than non-users, with this risk increasing the longer they used the product.  

According to the same study, “Subtypes of ovarian cancer more likely to be associated with talc included invasive serous and endometrioid tumors and borderline serous and mucinous tumors.”  Serous epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common form of ovarian cancer.  Most serous tumors are benign, but about a third, called cystadenocarcinoma, are malignant.  (The term “carcinoma” refers to cancer resulting from uncontrolled growth of squamous cells.) Endometrioid tumors, which start to grow in the endometrium or interior uterine lining, are usually malignant and invasive, and make up anywhere from 8% to 15% of ovarian carcinomas.  Mucinous tumors, which are malignant about 15% of the time, account for just over a third of ovarian tumors.  

Other Health Risks of Talcum Powder: Cervical Cancer, Endometrial Cancer, and Mesothelioma

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Ovarian cancer may not be the only risk of using talcum powder.  The Cancer study also pointed out the “similarity of ovarian cancer to mesotheliomas and the chemical relation of talc to asos, a known cause of mesotheliomas.”  

Mesothelioma, a cancer which affects the lining of the heart, lungs, and other organs, started to become prevalent during the 1950s.  While talcum powder products have been asos-free since the 1970s, several of the plaintiffs involved in recent lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson began using talcum powder as early as 1950, long before the formula was altered to exclude asos.  According to a study published recently in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, “Application of talcum powder released inhalable asos fibers” –which were found to be “present in the lungs and lymph node tissues of a woman who used this brand of talc powder and developed and died from mesothelioma.”  

While modern talcum powder is asos-free, other hazards also persist.  According to a recent study published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, talcum powder has been “hypothesized as not only a possible risk factor for ovarian tumors but also cervical… cancer.”

If you or one of your family members was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using a talcum powder, you may be able to recover compensation for wrongful death, medical bills, lost earnings, and pain and suffering.  For a free legal consultation call Philadelphia personal injury lawyer Brent Wieand at (888) 789-3161.  

*Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes and is not legal advice. The Wieand Law Firm, LLC is based in Philadelphia, PA, and proud to serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.*

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