Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Key Facts The first evidence linking ovarian cancer with talcum powder surfaced in the early 70's. While Johnson & Johnson denies that it's products are dangerous, numerous studies have shown a correlation between talc products and an elevated risk of developing ovarian tumors.

Talcum powder is made from talc, a naturally occurring mineral that often appears near asbestos deposits. In the past, asbestos has been found in some talc products, raising concerns about it’s safety. However, studies have shown that even asbestos-free talc may raise the risk of developing ovarian tumors, sparking thousands of lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson over it’s baby powder product in 2016.

Does Talcum Powder Cause Ovarian Cancer?

The link to ovarian cancer goes back to at least the early 1970s. A study published in 1971 by four OBGYNs found talc particles in more than 75 percent of the ovarian tumors that the team investigated. Since then, many additional studies conducted throughout the past several decades have suggested the two are connected. The largest study to date, including more than 18,000 women, indicated “small-to-moderate increases” in the risk of ovarian cancer for women who used talc in their genital area.

How does talcum powder cause ovarian cancer?

Even with decades of studies showing a connection between ovarian tumors and talc, it is still unclear exactly what causes them to form. Tumors can form regardless of how the powder is applied: directly or indirectly, such as when dusted onto underwear, sanitary napkins, etc. Based on these studies’ results, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has deemed talc to be a “possible carcinogen” for women.

One theory is that particles which travel from the pelvic region to the ovaries can cause inflammation, a condition that frequently plays a role in the development certain types of cancer. That inflammation can eventually lead to the formation of cancerous tumors.

Is there any scientific proof?

Medical studies going back to at least the early 1970s have demonstrated a link between talc and ovarian cancer. More recently though, three large-scale studies of over 85,000 women done since 2000 have added credibility to the argument.

Large-Scale Studies of Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer
Study Size Conclusion Source
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 women Using genital powder has “a 20–30% increase in risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer” Cancer Prevention Research, August 2014

Did talc cause my cancer?

While there may be a link between baby powder and ovarian cancer, there is still more research needed to understand the exact relationship. What is known is that particles of talcum powder 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.

Not all baby powder products are made from talc; some are made of other ingredients like corn starch and arrowroot. There is no scientific evidence linking corn starch to ovarian cancer.

Talc and Lung Cancer

Talc has also been implicated in a number of lung-related diseases and conditions, including lung cancer, particularly as a source of 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 sterile and 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. Due to this link, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified talc containing asbestos as “carcinogenic to humans.”

Additional Information

Does talcum powder contain asbestos?

Both talc and asbestos are naturally occurring silicate minerals that are frequently found in deposits near each other. As a result, it is very easy to for asbestos to get mixed in with talc products, including talcum powder. Historically, some such products have contained traces of asbestos, and some researchers believe that contamination may be the source of cancer and other problems.

In 1976, strict quality control measures were put in place to help keep asbestos out of food- and cosmetic-grade talc products. A 2010 study by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration found no asbestos in a variety of products that contained talc. However, it is possible that asbestos could still be found in industrial-grade talc and naturally occurring talc deposits and mines.

Can I sue talcum powder companies if I develop ovarian cancer?

Due to the fact that J&J specifically marketed their Shower to Shower and Baby Powder products to women for feminine hygiene, and because they knew about the possible risks but chose not to include any warning labels on their products, a number of lawsuits have been brought against the brand. The three biggest verdicts to date cost Johnson & Johnson nearly $200 Million in 2016. Deane Berg was the first to prove that talc played a role in the development of her cancer. Following her court victory, Jacqueline Fox, Gloria Ristesund, and Deborah Giannecchini all won cases against J&J.

Even though juries are beginning to side with women, every case is different, and liability for talc-containing products may vary depending on a person’s use, the states where they live, and which products are used. If you believe that talc may have led to your cancer diagnosis, talking with an experienced and reliable attorney is the best way to understand your legal rights.