Talcum powder is a widely used ingredient in baby powder, body powders, cosmetics and other commonly used items, but that does not necessarily mean that it is safe.

Talcum Powder Lawsuits

Talcum powder is a widely used ingredient in baby powder, body powders, cosmetics and other commonly used items, but that does not necessarily mean that it is safe. Medical professionals and researchers have been concerned about the health risks of talcum powder, such as ovarian cancer, for years. Now, talcum powder distributor Johnson & Johnson (J&J) faces legal action over its talc-containing products, Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower.

Talcum powder has triggered lawsuits and safety concerns due to its link to ovarian cancer. In fact, industry heads have even acknowledged talc’s dangers and that it can potentially reach the ovaries when applied to the genital area for feminine hygiene. Although evidence of this potential link emerged decades ago, no warning has been issued to the public.

Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Some women use talcum powder for feminine hygiene; it is applied to the genital area to prevent vaginal odor. It is also sometimes applied to sanitary pads and undergarments for this purpose. As many as one in five women apply talc regularly to their genitals, some estimates show.

Talcum powder has been used for a number of years, but concerns about its risks also date back decades. Some suspect that the fine powder can travel through the vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes to the ovaries where it can cause subsequent inflammation and cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer first became publicized in 1971, when talc particles were identified in ovarian cancers. Researchers found that 75 percent of ovarian tumors contained talc. The prestigious journal The Lancet later stated that “The potentially harmful effects of talc . . . in the ovary . . . should not be ignored.”

In 1982, the journal Cancer published a study showing that women who used talcum powder on sanitary napkins were three times as likely to develop ovarian cancer compared to those who did not.

The journal Obstetrics & Gynecology published a study in 1992 showing that talcum powder was associated with a three-fold increased risk of ovarian cancer. More studies investigated this issue following this publication. In one sample study, researchers found that talc could reach the fallopian tubes in as little as 30 minutes.

A 33 percent risk of ovarian cancer was identified in a 2003 meta-analysis published in the journal Anticancer Research. The analysis involved 16 studies and a total of 11,933 women.

The cosmetic industry has even recognized the dangers of talc. In 2002, Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association president Edward Kavanaugh acknowledged that talc is harmful and “can reach the human ovaries.” Still, no warning has been issued to the public.

Women who used talcum powder were 20 to 30 percent more likely to develop ovarian cancer compared to those who did not, according a June 2013 study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research. Data from 2,000 women who used talc for feminine hygiene was also analyzed in the study. The researchers found that “Genital powder use was associated with a modest increased risk of epithelial ovarian cancer (odds ratio 1.24, 95% confidence interval 1.15-1.33) relative to women who never used powder. Risk was elevated for invasive serous (1.20, 1.09-1.32), endometrioid (1.22, 1.04-1.43), and clear cell (1.24, 1.01-1.52) tumors, and for borderline serous tumors (1.46, 1.24-1.72). Among genital powder users, we observed no significant trend (p=0.17) in risk with increasing number of lifetime applications (assessed in quartiles). We noted no increase in risk among women who only reported non-genital powder use. In summary, genital powder use is a modifiable exposure associated with small-to-moderate increases in risk of most histologic subtypes of epithelial ovarian cancer.”

Talcum Powder Litigation

Two class action lawsuits were filed against J&J in 2014 alleging that it’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products caused women to develop ovarian cancer. These are not the first legal actions to be filed against J&J over its talcum powder products.

In October 2013, a South Dakota jury found that J&J failed to warn about the risk of ovarian cancer associated with talcum powder. The plaintiff in the lawsuit was a woman who developed ovarian cancer in 2006. She had used Shower to Shower body powder for 30 years. Three doctors examined her cancerous tissue under an electron microscope, and determined it to be caused by talcum powder. Daniel Cramer of Harvard University was one of these three doctors, and testified during trial that talcum powder probably results in 10,000 cases of ovarian cancer each year. Dr. Cramer has been investigating the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer for over three decades.

J&J’s talcum powder has also prompted government involvement as well. In September 2013, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation looking into how J&J marketed its talcum powder products. The office issued a subpoena to determine if the company promoted talcum powder as a feminine hygiene product.