Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Many women use talcum powder for feminine hygiene. Because it is able to reduce friction and absorb moisture, it is often placed in the genital area and on sanitary pads to fight odor.

Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Many women use talcum powder for feminine hygiene. Because it is able to reduce friction and absorb moisture, it is often placed in the genital area and on sanitary pads to fight odor. Talcum powder is also used in baby powder to prevent diaper rash, and in cosmetic products such as face powders. The product has been a common household item for decades, but that does not guarantee its safety. In fact, there has been evidence since the 1970’s suggesting that talcum powder could be linked to ovarian cancer. These concerns have prompted some users to file lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson (J&J).

While research has not been conclusive, there have been multiple studies suggesting that the regular use of talcum powder in the genital area could increase the risk of ovarian cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, some suspect that the powder can trigger inflammation and, ultimately, cancer by traveling through the vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes. In fact, a head of the cosmetic industry has acknowledged that talc may be dangerous and could reach the ovaries. Despite this, there has been no public warning to alert consumers of this information.

Research Linking Talcum Powder to Ovarian Cancer

Some estimates find that one in five women regularly apply talc to their genitals. The use of J&J’s Shower to Shower body powder and Baby Powder has been popular, but there have also been longstanding concerns that it may increase the risk of ovarian cancer. These concerns were first highlighted in 1971, when researchers found talc particles in 75 percent of ovarian cancers. J&J’s medical director vehemently opposed this finding. However, the prestigious journal The Lancet later warned that “The potentially harmful effects of talc . . . in the ovary . . . should not be ignored.”

The journal Cancer published a study in 1982 showing a three-fold increased risk of ovarian cancer among women who used talcum powder on sanitary napkins compared to those who did not. The link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer was highlighted again in a 1992 study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology; researchers found that the product was linked to three-fold increased risk of ovarian cancer. A number of other studies were published analyzing this risk. In one sample study, researchers found that talc could reach the fallopian tubes in as little as 30 minutes.

In 2003, the journal Anticancer Research published a meta-analysis showing a 33 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer. The analysis looked at 16 studies including a total of 11,933 women.

The journal Cancer Prevention Research published a study in June 2013 showing that women were 20 to 30 percent more likely to develop ovarian cancer if they used talcum powder compared to those who did not. Researchers analyzed data from 2,000 women who used talc for feminine hygiene, and 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.”

The risks associated with the use of talc have even been acknowledged by the cosmetic industry. In 2002, Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association president Edward Kavanaugh recognized that talc “can reach the human ovaries” and potentially cause harm. Despite this, no warning has ever been issued to the public.

Lawsuits over Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

There have been multiple legal actions involving talcum powder and its link to ovarian cancer. In September 2013, the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation into Johnson & Johnson’s marketing practices of the products. In an effort to determine if the company promoted talcum powder for feminine hygiene, the office issued a subpoena.

In 2014, two class action lawsuits were filed against J&J in 2014 alleging that its Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products were to blame for certain cases of ovarian cancer.

In October 2013, a regular talcum powder user won her case against J&J over the product. She developed ovarian cancer after using Shower to Shower for over 30 years. A South Dakota jury found that the company failed to warn about the risk of ovarian cancer associated with talcum powder. Her cancerous tissue was analyzed by three doctors under an electron microscope; they determined that talcum powder caused her
cancer. 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.