In the first five months of 2016, two juries have awarded multi-million-dollar verdicts to women who suffered from ovarian cancer caused by long-term use of talcum powder manufactured by Johnson & Johnson. The women relied on studies that link the use of talcum powder in the pubic area to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. They also introduced evidence that Johnson & Johnson was aware of those studies and made a deliberate choice not to warn consumers about the risk.
Johnson & Johnson argues that talcum powder is perfectly safe. It bases that claim on studies that show no association between the use of talcum powder and the onset of ovarian cancer. There are, in fact, conflicting studies, but most of the studies upon which Johnson & Johnson relies had very limited data about women’s use of talcum powder. More comprehensive studies provide strong evidence that applying talcum powder in the pubic area increases a woman’s risk of acquiring ovarian cancer.
Talcum Powder and Baby Powder
Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral that is mined around the world. Talc’s slipperiness and its ability to absorb moisture has cemented its value in a variety of consumer products, including cosmetics, soap, and many baby powders.
Talc is often found next to deposits of asbestos. Contamination of talc by asbestos was a problem until 1976, when the cosmetics industry adopted voluntary guidelines requiring the use of uncontaminated talc in consumer products. Inhaling talc can nevertheless produce respiratory problems, which is why pediatricians advise parents to be careful to keep baby powder away from their child’s face if they use it to prevent diaper rash.
Evidence linking talc to ovarian cancer suggests that parents should not use baby powder that contains talc while diapering a baby girl. Studies also suggest that women should not allow talcum powder (or any other body powder that contains talc) to come into contact with their genitals.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer reports that 40% of women in the United States use a body powder. Given the prevalent use of a product that often assumed to be safe, it is important for women to understand the potential risk they take if they do not exercise great caution while using talcum powder.
Studies Link Talcum Powder to Ovarian Cancer
The first major study to find a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2000. The study tracked 78,630 women between 1982 and 1996. During those years, 307 members of the study group developed ovarian cancer. The researchers found that the cancer victims were significantly more likely to have used talcum powder than the women who did not develop ovarian cancer.
Most other studies have not followed a group of women over time. Instead, researchers interviewed women who had ovarian cancer and asked them whether and how often they used talcum powder during their lives. Researchers compared their answers to control groups consisting of women who had similar characteristics (such as age, race, income, and lifestyle) but were cancer-free. Sometimes studies of that nature (known as case-control studies) are criticized because they depend upon interview subjects to have reliable memories, but since the use of talcum powder tends to be a lifetime habit that begins before the age of 25, most women can reliably recall whether they made significant use of talcum powder during their lives.
Case-control studies in Canada, Washington, New England, and elsewhere have found a significant relationship between the genital use of talcum powder and the development of ovarian cancer. A comprehensive case-control study published in 2013 compared 8,525 women who had ovarian cancer and 9,859 who did not. The study showed that women with ovarian cancer were much more likely to have used talcum powder in their pubic areas than women who did not. A 2016 study that compared 2,041 women who had ovarian cancer to a control group of 2,100 cancer-free women arrived at a similar result.
Compensation for Cancer Victims
As the two jury verdicts mentioned at the beginning of this article prove, the evidence linking ovarian cancer to long-term use of talcum powder is convincing. Women who are victims of ovarian cancer may be entitled to substantial compensation if they used talcum powder in their genital areas, particularly if they used talcum powder habitually during the course of many years.
Personal injury attorneys who handle cases involving unsafe products and toxic substances can evaluate the facts to determine whether compensation is warranted. Family members of a woman who died from ovarian cancer may also be entitled to wrongful death compensation if the deceased family member regularly used talcum powder. Since the right to compensation depends on acting before the time limit for making a claim expires, you should ask for an evaluation immediately if you suspect that you or a loved one acquired ovarian cancer due to the use of talcum powder.