Talcum Powder & Ovarian Cancer

Women have been using Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products in their feminine hygiene routines for decades because the brand advertised them as being perfectly safe. Many may recall the pharmaceutical company’s popular marketing slogan from the 1980s: “A sprinkle a day keeps odor away.” However, numerous studies over the past several decades have found a connection between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, raising concerns over whether these products are as safe as they were advertised.

See recent studies and statistics, and learn who is at risk in our free talc & ovarian cancer guide.

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What is Talc?

talcum powder vs baby powderTalc is a common, naturally occurring clay mineral found in large deposits around the world. Because of its silky texture and moisture absorbing properties, it is often used in cosmetics. Talc is best known in its pulverized form as talcum powder, or marketed under then name “baby powder” to treat diaper rash. However, it is also used as a food and drug additive, and can be found in soap, antiperspirant, toothpaste, and even bath bombs.

Does Talcum Powder Cause Ovarian Cancer?

Numerous studies say yes. In 1971, a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer was discovered by four OB/GYNs who found talc particles in more than 75 percent of the ovarian tumors they investigated. Since then, many additional studies have further supported a connection between talc products and ovarian cancer.

Does baby powder cause cancer?

Johnson's baby powder“Baby powder” is a marketing term for any powdered product intended to treat diaper rash and skin irritations. Historically, baby powder has been made from talc because of the mineral’s ability to absorb moisture and sooth chapped skin. But today, many brands have switched from talc to other substances, such as cornstarch, arrowroot, or rice powder. Only talc-based baby powder has been linked to ovarian cancer and lung problems.

In 2016, the baby powder cancer debate became an international media story as Johnson & Johnson lost three back-to-back lawsuits over claims that its talc products caused ovarian cancer in women.

Baby powder and cancer in the news

How is ovarian cancer caused by talc?

Even with 40 years of studies pointing to a connection between ovarian tumors and talcum powder, the exact relationship is still unclear. Tumors can develop regardless of whether talc is applied directly or indirectly, such as when dusted onto underwear or sanitary napkins.

One theory is that talc particles can travel through the vagina to the ovaries and cause inflammation. That inflammation can eventually lead to the formation of cancerous tumors.

Is there any scientific proof?

Medical studies continue to show that talc could increase the risk of ovarian tumors. A report from May of 2016 determined that 63% of women with ovarian cancer had dusted themselves with talc. Other results vary from no noticeable increase in risk, to a 33% higher risk (Epidemiology 2015). Three large-scale studies of over 85,000 women conducted since 2008 have all found a connection.

Based on these studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has deemed talc to be a “possible carcinogen” for women.

Ovarian Cancer and Talc Studies
Study SizeConclusionSource
Meta-analysis of multiple early studies“…epidemiological evidence suggests that use of cosmetic talc in the perineal area may be associated with ovarian cancer risk.”Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, April 2008
66,028 women“…perineal talcum powder use increases the risk of endometrial cancer, particularly among postmenopausal women”Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, April 2010
18,384 womenUsing genital powder has “a 20–30% increase in risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer”Cancer Prevention Research, August 2014

Who is at risk of developing cancer from talc?

talc use by demographic

All women who regularly used talc in their genital area may have a higher risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. While it isn’t known how much exposure is needed for talc to cause cancer, it is assumed that it takes many years for tumors to form. If you also have other known risk factors for developing ovarian cancer, then your chances of being diagnosed could be even higher after using talc products.

In the 1990s, Johnson & Johnson increased its talcum powder advertising to women—especially minorities. As a result, studies have shown that a higher percentage of African American women (44%) use talcum powder for feminine hygiene than either white (30%) or Hispanic (29%) women.

Johnson & Johnson’s Talcum Powder Products

Both of Johnson & Johnson’s body powder products contain talc, although they now offer a talc-free baby powder option as well.

Johnson's talcum powder productsShower-to-Shower has been marketed to women for nearly 50 years as a daily feminine hygiene product to eliminate odors and absorb moisture. Even though evidence surfaced 45 years ago that talc might be connected with ovarian cancer, Johnson & Johnson continued marketing the product to women under the slogan, “A sprinkle a day keeps odor away.”

Johnson’s Baby Powder has been used by parents for over 100 years to treat diaper rash, and by women for personal hygiene. While Johnson & Johnson still maintains that talc is safe, parents should seek out safer alternatives like corn starch baby powders because of the possible cancer connection and infant lung problems.

Did Johnson & Johnson’s talc products cause my cancer?

While there is a link between Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products and ovarian cancer, there is still more research needed to understand the exact cause. What we do know is that particles of talc have been discovered in tumors removed from the ovaries and nearby areas of the body, indicating that the particles could have played a role in the development of the cancer.

Johnson & Johnson denies that either it’s Shower-to-Shower or Johnson’s Baby Powder products cause ovarian cancer. For decades the company has refused to place warning labels on these products despite the evidence and the repeated verdicts against them.

If you or a loved one has used talcum powder for years and developed ovarian cancer, you have a several options available to you. Learn more about available financial resources and what you can do after a diagnosis.

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Is Johnson & Johnson liable?

Talcum powder cancer lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson have been making headlines since the first verdict was handed out in 2014. Since Johnson & Johnson specifically marketed their Shower-to-Shower and Baby Powder products to women for feminine hygiene – and because they knew about the possible risks associated with talc and ovarian cancer but refused to include warning labels on their products – Johnson & Johnson may be considered liable.

CBS News video of talcum powder & cancer

More than 2,400 cases have been brought against the brand resulting in four major verdicts totaling $307.6 million. Even though juries are beginning to side with women, every case is different, and liability for talc-containing products may vary depending on a woman’s use, the state in which she lives, and which products she used.Women who have used talcum powder products and developed ovarian cancer may be eligible to receive compensation for medical expenses, lost income, and other expenses related to their diagnosis. If you believe talcum powder products lead to your cancer diagnosis, we can connect you with a lawyer to get a free case evaluation.

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Talc and Lung Cancer

Talc has also been implicated in a number of lung-related diseases and conditions, including lung cancer in miners and industrial workers. However, the results of various studies are conflicting, and the presence of impurities like asbestos could be a contributing factor.

While lung cancer may be a risk, there is actually more evidence for other lung-related conditions, such as pulmonary talcosis, fibrosis, and granulomatosis. Sterile talc powder is sometimes used to help treat or prevent pleural effusion, which is the buildup of fluid between the lungs and the chest wall. This effusion frequently occurs in lung cancer and lung-related cancers like mesothelioma. The talc used in this application is free of asbestos.

Can inhaling talcum powder cause lung cancer?

On its own, inhaling talcum powder seems unlikely to lead directly to lung cancer. While some studies have shown that talc miners have an increased risk of developing lung cancer, other factors may be at play in the studies, such as the presence of radon (a major risk factor for lung cancer) or impurities like asbestos. On the other hand, talcum powder contaminated with asbestos is definitely a risk factor for developing lung cancer. Asbestos itself is a known carcinogen and has been linked directly to lung cancer.

If you still have questions about the link between talcum powder products and your ovarian cancer diagnosis, learn more in our free guide.