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Ovarian Cancer Linked to Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder

Jun 10, 2016

In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified talcum powder as a possible human carcinogen if used in the female genital area. Research scientists in Wales, as far back as 1971, found particles of talc embedded in ovarian and cervical tumors, The New York Times reports.

In the ensuing years, there have been numerous studies that have linked genital talc use to ovarian cancer. A report earlier in May revealed that among African-American women, genital use of talcum powder is connected to a 44 percent increased risk for invasive epithelial ovarian cancer, according to the Times.

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) claims its trademark baby powder is safe but it has been hit with two multimillion-dollar jury awards in recent months. One in May 2016 was for $55 million in damages awarded to a cancer survivor, and the other, a $72 million award given in February, reports the Times.

Cancer is difficult to study because it develops over a long period of time and there are many influencing factors, such as genes, behaviors and environmental exposures. "The best we can do," said Dr. Shelley Tworoger, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard, "is to look at the preponderance of the evidence."

Talc is composed of magnesium and silicon and is a naturally occurring clay mineral. It is used in cosmetic products as it absorbs moisture and prevents caking. It is also an additive in chewing gum, tablets, and some rice. Often, it is mined near asbestos, a known carcinogen and manufacturers have to be especially mindful to avoid contamination. Many women use the powder to prevent chafing on their inner thighs. Others sprinkle it on underwear or sanitary pads to stay "fresh" and dry. In the 1980s, an ad campaign once promised for an at-the-time popular talcum powder, "a sprinkle a day helps keep odor away."

A Sioux Falls woman with advanced ovarian cancer who won a lawsuit against J&J, but did not win damages said she hopes other talc lawsuits will raise awareness. "I knew nothing about this before, she said," I figured baby powder is for babies, it must be safe," the Times reported.

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