Lawsuits Involving Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer on the Rise

Thousands of women with ovarian cancer have come forward to file lawsuits against the giant product manufacturer Johnson & Johnson (J&J). These women are claiming that baby powder was the cause of their disease and cited a long trail of studies connecting talc to ovarian cancer. In 1971, research scientists in Wales found particles of talc embedded in ovarian and cervical tumors, The New York Times reports.

Numerous studies since have linked genital talc use with ovarian cancer. A report in May 2016 said that genital use of powder among African-American women is linked with a 44 percent increased risk for epithelial ovarian cancer, according to the Times.

J&J was hit with two multimillion-dollar jury awards in recent months. One verdict is for $55 million in damages awarded to a cancer survivor in early May and a $72 million award was given in February.

Talc is a clay mineral composed of magnesium and silicon. It is often used in cosmetic products as it absorbs moisture, prevents caking, and is known for its softness. It is an additive in tablets, chewing gum, and some rice. It is often mined near asbestos, a known carcinogen, and manufacturers must take care to avoid contamination. Some women use the powder to prevent chafing on their inner thighs, and some sprinkle it in their underwear to stay “fresh” and dry. A catchy jingle in the 1980s promised “a sprinkle a day helps keep odor away,” reports the Times.

A Harvard professor, Dr. Daniel W. Cramer and his colleagues in 1982, compared 215 women with ovarian cancer and 215 healthy women serving as a control group. Compared with nonusers, women who used the talc were at nearly twice the risk for ovarian cancer, and those who used it on a regular basis were at more than three times the relative risk, according to the Times.

“Talcum powder is an interesting case, because it’s not something that’s necessary,” said Dr. Anne McTiernan, an epidemiologist with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “If there’s any doubt, why should anyone use it?”

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