More than 1,000 women with ovarian cancer have sued manufacturers of talcum powder and baby powder after learning of the association between those products and their disease. Public awareness of the issue should grow in light of two recent jury verdicts that awarded substantial compensation to women who were not warned of the risk of using talcum powder.
It is critical for women to understand the relationship between talcum powder, baby powder, and ovarian cancer. Women can minimize their cancer risk by avoiding the use of those products on their genitals. Women who develop ovarian cancer should seek legal advice from a law firm that helps victims obtain compensation for diseases that are caused by unsafe products.
What is talcum powder?
Talc is a mineral found in soapstone and some other rocks. Talc gives soapstone its “soapy” feel and softness. In addition to absorbing moisture, talc causes skin to tighten. Talc is a common ingredient in many consumer products, including cosmetics and foot powders.
Talcum powder is made by crushing talc into a powdered form. Modern talcum powder usually consists of 99% talc combined with perfume.
What is baby powder?
Most baby powder consists of scented talc. Since talc absorbs moisture, parents use baby powder to prevent diaper rash.
Other kinds of baby powder are made from cornstarch. Johnson & Johnson makes both kinds of baby powder. Its bestselling baby powder, however, is made from talc.
What is ovarian cancer?
Ovaries are the reproductive glands that produce eggs inside a woman’s body. Epithelial cells on the outer surface of the ovary are the ovarian cells that are most likely to become cancerous.
A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75. Ovarian cancer is not as common as other cancers, but the American Cancer Society reports that ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. There may be many causes of ovarian cancer, but researchers are uncertain why some women develop ovarian cancer while others do not.
Since tubal ligation and hysterectomy lower the risk of ovarian cancer, one theory is that cancer-causing substances may enter the body through the vagina and pass through the uterus and fallopian tubes to reach the ovaries. That theory is consistent with studies showing that women who use talcum powder in their pubic area have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, while the use of talcum powder on other parts of the body does not increase that risk.
Do talcum powder and baby powder cause ovarian cancer?
Manufacturers of talcum powder and baby powder, including Johnson & Johnson, contend that scientific evidence does not support the view that their products cause ovarian cancer. For a time, they premised their denials on the lack of evidence that talc applied to the genital area can actually enter a woman’s body and travel to her ovaries.
The missing evidence surfaced in 2007 when doctors using sophisticated scanning equipment detected talc in the pelvic lymph nodes of a woman who had been dusting her genitals with talcum powder for 30 years. The woman was suffering from stage III ovarian cancer.
The doctors who made that discovery published a study in 2016 that examined the link between ovarian cancer and the use of talcum powder. The doctors compared 2,041 women who had ovarian cancer to a control group of 2,100 who did not have cancer. The women in the control group were in the same age range and lived in the same general locations as the women who had cancer. The study asked whether women in both groups regularly applied talcum powder to their genital/rectal area, either directly or by applying it to sanitary napkins, tampons, or underwear. The doctors determined that the women who regularly used talcum powder were 33% more likely to have developed ovarian cancer than those who did not use talcum powder.
The results of the 2016 study were consistent with results obtained in many other studies conducted since 1982. Those studies typically concluded that the genital use of talcum powder increases the risk of ovarian cancer by 33% to 35%. Although other studies found no relationship between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, a comprehensive review by the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) criticized many of the studies that found no relationship between ovarian cancer and talcum powder. In many of those studies, the sample size was too small to produce reliable results, the researchers did not gather enough data, or the study was not well designed.
Two studies are particularly important. A large cohort study published in 2000 examined data concerning a group of 78,630 women who participated in the study between 1982 and 1996. The 307 women who developed ovarian cancer during that time were compared to those who did not. The study concluded that women who used talcum powder in their pubic area were more likely to develop a certain kind of invasive ovarian cancer
The second study, published in 2013, analyzed data reported to the Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium by researchers who were conducting eight other studies. The analysis compared 8,525 women who suffered from ovarian cancer to a control group of 9,859 cancer-free women. Of the women in the control group, 25% used talcum powder on their genitals while 31% of the women with ovarian cancer did so. After controlling for other cancer risks, the researchers concluded that genital powder use is associated with a 20% to 30% increase in risk of developing ovarian cancer.
How have juries decided cases involving talcum powder and ovarian cancer?
About 1,200 women with ovarian cancer have sued manufacturers of talcum powder. Two cases against Johnson & Johnson have gone to trial. Juries heard evidence that Johnson & Johnson advertises the importance of dusting genitals with talcum powder or baby powder to “feel fresh” and reduce odor. Yet the advertising fails to warn women of a cancer risk that, according to the company’s internal documents, Johnson & Johnson has known about since 1971.
Scientists have repeatedly advised companies like Johnson & Johnson to warn consumers that talcum powder and baby powder might be linked to ovarian cancer. Instead of warning women not to use body powders on their genitals, Johnson & Johnson actively encouraged them to do so. It is not surprising that the two trials ended in verdicts against Johnson & Johnson of $72 million and $55 million.
If I used talcum powder and have ovarian cancer, what should I do?
A law firm that represents clients in personal injury cases based on dangerous or toxic products can evaluate your situation if you suspect that talcum powder or baby powder caused your ovarian cancer. You may be entitled to substantial compensation for the tragedy that you are enduring. Surviving family members may also be entitled to wrongful death compensation if a loved one died of ovarian cancer after a lifetime of using talcum powder or baby powder. You need to act quickly, however, to avoid missing important deadlines that could cause you to lose your right to bring a claim. The attorneys at Advocate Law Group have decades of experience handling product liability and personal injury claims. We work with leading product liability firms nationwide to help our clients obtain results. Contact us for a free case evaluation.