Talc Baby Powder Has Been Associated With Cancer. Talcum powder, a fairly ubiquitous consumer product widely used by women, has been associated with mounting evidence that the genital use of talcum powder is associated with related female cancers, including ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer, which has increased concerns that baby powder is linked to cancer.
Parker Waichman LLP continues to investigate if there is a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer and how talcum powder may be linked to ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer.
Talcum Powder Associated with Increased Cancer Risks
Perineal (genital) talc powders are a silicate that has been tied in some studies to ovarian cancer. In fact, a number of studies conducted over the past two and a-half decades have revealed this increased risk, according to the European Journal of Cancer Prevention.
The American Cancer Society describes talcum powder as being made from the mineral, talc, which contains magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. In powder form, talc is an effective moisture absorber that also helps to minimize friction, which is why talcum powder is commonly used to help keep skin dry, and in rash prevention. Talc is commonly found in baby powder, in adult facial and body powders, and in other consumer products, which is why many women are wondering if there is a link between baby powder and ovarian cancer and experts are researching if talcum powder is linked to cancer.
In its natural form, some talc may contain the carcinogen, asbestos; however, since the 1970s, talcum products used in the United States for home use have been free of asbestos. There are concerns that women who apply talcum powder on a regular basis to their genital area may experience increased risks for developing ovarian cancer and some wonder if baby powder causes cancer; specifically, if there is a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Researchers believe the powder may make its way to the ovary, settling there and causing inflammation, which may later lead to cancer.
In 2006, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified genital talc as possibly carcinogenic. Despite this, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not list talc as a risk factor for ovarian cancer.
What is the Link Between Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer?
Research reveals that ovarian cancer is linked to talcum powder in some studies. Ovarian cancer is dangerous and life threatening and the American Cancer Society estimates that ovarian cancer will have killed over 14,000 women last year. According to the CDC some 20,000 American women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer; 14,500 women will die from ovarian cancer each year, Reuters Health writes. Some studies have found a potential link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, which has raised concerns that baby powder is causing cancer and has many wondering if there is a possible talcum powder-ovarian cancer link.
According to laboratory studies involving animals exposed to asbestos-free talc, in some cases, tumor formation occurred. Also, mixed results have been seen regarding the use of talcum powder in women and increased ovarian cancer risks. There has been some suggestion that powder particles, when applied to or near the genitalia—on sanitary napkins, diaphragms, condoms—may travel through the vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and to the ovary, increasing concerns regarding baby powder linked to ovarian cancer.
Another review combined information from 16 published studies prior to 2003 and discovered a 30 percent increased risk in ovarian cancer in talc users; the average woman’s lifetime risk is about 1.4 percent, which means that the increased risk associated with talc use, individually, is 1.8 percent. Because talc may be found in many consumer products, the American Cancer Society notes the importance of having a better understanding of this increase, specifically, how ovarian cancer and talcum powder link.
According to Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a number of studies revealed a positive association between the use of talcum powder in adult women in their genital area and increased risks for ovarian cancer.
June 2016 Research Cautions Against Using Talcum Powder Gynecologically
In June 2016, the medical publication, Gynecology Oncology, indicated that there exists a potential tie between talcum powder and ovarian cancer risk that dates as far back to the 1960s when the public began expressing concern over asbestos contamination in talc.
In 2013, The Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium pooled eight case studies, analyzing 8525 cases and 9859 controls. With just some individuals testing positive for ovarian cancer, numbers could be quite startling. For example, should 40 percent of women use talc and with the relative risk of 1.2, then seven percent of ovarian cancer cases would be attributable to talc use, which amounts to some 1577 cases annually in the USA. According to Gynecology Oncololgy, this number is neither trivial, nor should this number be dismissed.
Likewise, should 20 percent of women be classified as genital talc users, the number of cases each year would be 819; five percent would lead to 211 cases. The research indicates that if fewer cases may be achieved, then it is best that talcum powder be avoided by women for genital uses to help avoid ovarian cancer.
Despite not addressing causation, the author concluded on the preventable nature of ovarian cancer, writing that, “In the interests of public health, I believe we should caution women against using genital talcum powder.”
Research on Talcum Powder and Elevated Endometrial Cancer Risks
In addition to mounting concerns and research that ovarian cancer is linked to baby powder, recent
research suggests that genital talcum powder use may also present an increased risk for endometrial (uterine) cancer in post-menopausal women. The perineal use of talcum powder had been assessed in 1982 in the Nurses’ Health Study and that research revealed that about 40 percent of women responding to questions concerning perineal talcum powder use, acknowledged their use of the powder for this purpose. The review involved 66,028 women and involved 599 incident cases of invasive endometrial adenocarcinoma that were diagnosed between 1982 and 2004. An association was seen that was dependent upon the women’s menopausal status and a positive association was seen in post-menopausal women. In fact, the so-called “ever” use of talcum powder was tied to a 21 percent increase in risk of endometrial cancer and regular use, considered once weekly, was associated with a 24 percent increased risk. Researchers also saw a borderline increased risk with increasing frequency of use and concluded that perineal talcum powder use is associated with increased endometrial cancer risks, particularly in post-menopausal women.
Study Finds that Genital Talc Increases Ovarian Cancer Risk
A recent study found that ovarian cancer risks were found to be one-third greater in women who regularly powdered their genital area with talc, according to Reuters Health.
For their study, researchers asked 2,041 women who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer and 2,100 other women with no ovarian cancer diagnosis about their use of talcum powder. The team found that the women who said that they routinely applied talc to their “crotches, sanitary napkins, tampons, and underwear” experienced a 33 percent increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, according to a report in Epidemiology, Reuters Health reported.
Meanwhile, the lead author of the study, Dr. Daniel W. Cramer head of Obstetrics and Gynecology Epidemiology Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, has called for warning labels to be placed on talcum powder, but with no success, wrote Reuters Health. “This is an easily modified risk factor,” Dr. Cramer told Reuters Health by telephone interview. “Talc is a good drying agent, but women should know that if it’s used repeatedly, it can get into the vagina and into their upper genital tract. And I think if they knew that, they wouldn’t use it.”
Cramer initially reported the genital talc-ovarian cancer link in 1982; however, this current research is the fist to isolate the association to premenopausal women and to postmenopausal women who used hormone therapy. Dr. Cramer and his team wrote that this may help to explain earlier contradictory results regarding the link between talc and ovarian cancer. Cramer has testified as a paid expert in lawsuits against the makers of talcum powder.
Dr. Nicolas Wentzensen, head of the clinical epidemiology unit for the National Cancer Institute, and who was not involved in this research told Reuters Health by email that this new study strengthens existing evidence that ties genital talc to ovarian cancer. “The recent paper in Epidemiology has provided additional support for an association between talc use and ovarian cancer from a case-control study,” he wrote. “While this recent analysis provides additional evidence supporting an association of talc and ovarian cancer, it will be important to test the methods used in this analysis in other data to see if the findings are confirmed,” he added.
Agency Classifies Talcum as Possibly Carcinogenic
Concerning worries regarding if talcum powder causes ovarian cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), indicated that, based on limited human study evidence, it classifies the perineal, or genital, use of talc-based baby powders as being “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
The American Cancer Society suggests that, until increased knowledge on consumer talcum powder is obtained, people should consider using cornstarch-based cosmetic products, which have not been associated with any type of cancer. In February 2016, following the announcement of a St. Louis jury returning a $72 million verdict in a wrongful death case involving Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, The Telegraph pointed out that J&J did not warn consumers of the potential dangers associated with genital talcum powder use, despite concerns raised by the American Cancer Society in 1999.
Also following the February 2016 announcement of a $72 million verdict in favor of the family of a woman who died allegedly after decades of using Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder for feminine hygiene, Cambridge professor, Paul Pharoah, Professor of Cancer Epidemiology at Cambridge, that it was “biologically plausible” that the use of talcum powder likely raises risks for ovarian cancer, The Telegraph reported. Pharoah also said that grains of talcum could enter a woman’s fallopian tubes, causing inflammation in the ovaries, which could lead to disease.
The announcements and commentary have raised questions, including, can baby powder cause cancer? How is talcum powder linked to ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer? Specifically, can talcum powder cause ovarian cancer?
Johnson & Johnson Ovarian Cancer Talcum Powder Lawsuits
In October 2013, a South Dakota federal jury found for a woman who brought a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson over allegations that Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder causes ovarian cancer. According to the jury, the woman’s regular use of Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products over three decades was associated with the woman’s diagnosis of ovarian cancer. In that case, Daniel Cramer, a Harvard epidemiologist and an expert on baby powder and ovarian cancer, indicated that of the more than 22,000 new ovarian cancer cases diagnosed in 2013, about 10,000 will be associated with perineal dusting of talcum powder, which points to a possible link between talcum powder and cancer.
According to the Dana-Farber Harvard Cancer Center, Dr. Cramer’s research involves the epidemiology of gynecologic cancers, specifically ovarian cancer. Dr. Cramer wrote the first case-control study that described a tie between talc use and ovarian cancer and he continues to pursue environmental and genetic factors that may involve pelvic contamination or disruption of the ovarian-pituitary axis associated with ovarian cancer.
The lawyer representing Johnson & Johnson admitted in that trial that executives there were aware of the association between baby talcum powder and ovarian cancer, but did not consider the risk sufficiently significant to warrant a product warning. Use of talc in cosmetics remains unregulated in the United States and, now, concerns are mounting that talcum powder causes cancer.
In another case, a United States district judge in the Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis), denied a Motion to Dismiss Conspiracy Claims brought against Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc America, Inc., fka Luzenac America, Inc. The lawsuit was brought by the woman’s husband, who alleges his wife died of ovarian cancer caused by her use of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products in her genital area; the products contained talc mined and sold by Imerys.
The husband also alleges that J&J and Imerys collaborated in an effort to illegally prevent consumers from learning about potentially dangerous adverse reactions associated with talc use. This collaboration included the firms allegedly performing wrongful acts to misrepresent and hide information concerning dangers associated with perineal talcum powder use, developing the “Talc Interested Party Task Force” (TIPTF) to defend talc use and prevent regulation through biased and self-funded and –disseminated research reports, releasing bogus information concerning the safety of talc use by consumers, and utilizing political and economic persuasion on regulatory entities.
Jury Returns Verdict of $72 Million In the Death of A Woman Who Used J&J Baby Powder
In February 2016, a St. Louis jury returned a $72 million verdict in the wrongful death case involving a woman (62) who died of ovarian cancer. The jury found that her use of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) talc-based products were a contributing factor in her developing ovarian cancer. Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc., the current owner of the Shower to Shower brand, was not a defendant in the case, which was heard in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Missouri.
The St. Louis jury awarded $10 million in actual damages and another $62 million in punitive damages against J&J. No award was made against Imerys. Imerys is the mining company that supplied the raw talc to J&J and which began warning J&J in 2005 of cancer risks tied to the raw talc it supplied, according to the lawsuit.
The woman represented in this cased used J&J’s talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for 35 years, wrote Reuters. Allegations included that the deceased woman, a former resident of Birmingham, Alabama, used Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower as part of her feminine hygiene. She was diagnosed three years ago with ovarian cancer and died in October 2015 at the age of 62.
This verdict is the first by a United States jury in which damages were awarded over these claims. J&J still faces another 1,000 cases, which were filed in Missouri state court and another 200 that were filed in New Jersey. Claims against J&J include that, for decades and for the purposes of increasing sales, it failed to warn consumers that its talc-based products could cause cancer. In this case, the jury found J&J liable for fraud, negligence, and conspiracy; deliberations lasted four hours.
Woman in Earlier Case Speaks Out About Recent Verdict and How She Helped Pave the Way for Others
In an earlier case, a now 58-year-old ovarian cancer survivor, a physician’s assistant from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, says that the most recent judgment is a wonderful victory.
She says she first began noticing spotting between her periods in the fall of 2006 at the age of 49. She initially believed the bleeding was a peri-menopausal symptom but opted for a second opinion from a gynecologist after her family practitioner told her there was nothing wrong. Following an ultrasound she was diagnosed with a hemorrhagic ovary, underwent removal of both ovaries, and learned that she had bilateral carcinoma. Specifically, she was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer, which had metastasized to some of her lymph nodes; she was given a life expectancy of under five years. She underwent a full hysterectomy within the week and was prepared for six months of painful chemotherapy, according to The New York Post.
“My life was consumed by chemotherapy and hospital visits. I had two ports put in my chest and abdomen for the IVs. Getting the chemo in my abdomen was the worst pain I’d ever experienced, even worse than childbirth. I suffered from hair loss, nausea, lack of appetite, and I would frequently throw up. I became anemic and could barely walk. Off work for sickness for six months, I couldn’t go out in public in case my immunity was compromised. Then my hearing started to go bad, a side effect of the chemotherapy,” she said.
She began reading literature from her oncologist and conducting her own research, finding that “use of talcum powder has been implicated in the development of ovarian cancer,” The New York Post reported. She noted that her only risk for ovarian cancer was her genital use of talcum powder since she was 18 years of age. She told The New York Post that she used both Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, as well as Shower to Shower, which she pointed out was touted as a feminine hygiene product with ads such as, “A sprinkle a day helps keep odor away.” She noted that, “Your body perspires in more places than just under your arms.” Meanwhile, the leaflet she received from her oncologist indicated that, since the early 1980s, a number of studies revealed that women who regularly use the talc powders for feminine hygiene had an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
She says it has been 10 years since her surgery and told The New York Post that, “I’m so relieved that the issue is finally getting the attention it deserves. In 2013, I, too, sued Johnson & Johnson, and a federal jury found that its body powder products were a factor in my condition. Although I was surprised that the jury awarded me zero damages—South Dakota is a very conservative state, and there had to be a unanimous verdict on whether any compensation should be paid—it was never about the money. Earlier I had turned down a $1.3 million out-of-court settlement because I didn’t want to sign a confidentiality clause.”
She told The New York Post that she hopes that other women never have to endure what she and others have had to saying she believes her “case paved the way for plaintiff lawyers to bring claims for hundreds of women who blame their ovarian cancer on exposure to talcum powder. As my lawyer said, I’m the equivalent of the first smokers who sued tobacco companies because of their lung cancer. The pioneers didn’t receive compensation, but the dangers and the conspiracy were finally exposed.”