For more than 40 years there have been suspicions in the medical industry that the use of talcum powder is related to the development of cancer in the reproductive system. Though the development of ovarian cancer is likely dependent upon a number of factors, there is some evidence that talc particles may travel through the vagina and fallopian tubes and to the ovaries, increasing the risk for the development of ovarian cancer.
The first study linking the use of talcum powder to ovarian cancer was conducted in 1971 when researchers found that 75% of the ovarian cancer tumors contained talc particles. A decade later, a Harvard University researcher found a 30% increase in ovarian cancer in women who used talcum powder products frequently. A 1997 internal memo shows that Johnson & Johnson, manufacturer of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower body powder, knew of the potential risk but believed the risk was too low to justify warnings or to discontinue marketing their products.
Despite the original findings and subsequent studies that have supported the original research, talc mining companies and Johnson & Johnson continue to argue against the connection citing insufficient evidence. The company has also managed to keep its product on the market without a warning for nearly half a century after the original discovery.
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against talcum powder manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson, by women or families of those who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using body care products containing talcum powder. Thus far, juries have awarded nearly $5 billion to plaintiffs but about 9,000 lawsuits have yet to be decided and many more may be expected.
What Is Talcum Powder?
Talcum powder is a powdered form of talc, magnesium silicate which is mined from naturally-occurring deposits in certain areas of the U.S. and around the world. It is often found near asbestos deposits and the earliest talcum powder products may have contained asbestos.
Once a link between asbestos and cancer was clearly established, manufacturers began refining their talcum powder products to ensure that they were “asbestos-free.” Talc itself, though, is known to be irritating and has contributed to respiratory problems like asthma and other lung conditions. It may also contribute to the development of ovarian cancer when used in the perineal or genital region.
What Is the Difference Between Talc and Talcum Powder?
Talcum powder is made from talc. Not all talc is talcum powder, but all talcum powder contains talc. Talc is used in a wide variety of industries. These include:
- Electric cable
Talcum powder can be found in a variety of cosmetics products, including baby powder. It’s also included in:
- Face powder
- Eye shadow
The talcum powder is what gives cosmetics a silky feel. It’s also present to help absorb moisture and prevent makeup products from caking. Talcum powder was also used by itself to absorb moisture on the body. Women would sprinkle the powder on their bodies to absorb moisture and to also mask anybody odors.
Talcum powder was the primary ingredient in a number of body care products including Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower body powder. Talcum powder was an essential ingredient, chosen for its absorbent properties to dry up moisture, reduce odor and soothe skin. Due to increasing pressure, most manufacturers have replaced the talc in their products with other absorbent powders such as cornstarch or arrowroot powder.
What Are Talcum Powder’s Links to Ovarian Cancer?
Scientific studies going back as far as the 1960s showed a possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. However, according to the FDA, the studies merely found an association, rather than demonstrating any conclusive link between the two. The FDA also said that these early studies did not indicate what risk factors might be involved.
Later researchers compared lab studies and studies of people to determine whether or not there was a risk of ovarian cancer. These studies found that there could be an increased risk of cancer if talcum powder was applied to the genital area and traveled up through the uterus and into the ovaries.
Does Talc Have Asbestos in It?
Not all talc contains asbestos, but some, even the talc that is used in cosmetics, could be contaminated with asbestos. Johnson & Johnson had to recall 33,000 bottles of baby powder in 2019 because they were found to have small amounts of asbestos in them.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a fibrous material that is made up of very thin fibers that are like needles. It is used to both strengthen and to fireproof other materials. However, it’s also known to cause some cancers, including mesothelioma, and is banned in many countries, although it isn’t in the United States.
What Is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer is a kind of cancer that is located in the ovaries. The ovaries are a part of the female reproductive system. There are two, one on each side of the uterus. They’re about the size of an almond and are the part of the reproductive system that produces the eggs, or ova. The ovaries are also responsible for producing hormones, including estrogen and progesterone.
Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries but can spread to nearby parts of the body. Typically, ovarian cancer is very difficult to detect until it has spread, usually to the abdomen and the pelvis. However, it’s much easier to treat in its early stages when it’s located only in the ovaries than it is in the later stages after it’s spread.
What Are the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal swelling
- Feeling full quickly when eating
- Pelvic discomfort
- Frequently needing to urinate
- Changes in bowel movements
Because ovarian cancer is so difficult to detect in its early stages when it’s much more easily treatable, it’s important to see a doctor if you experience any of the symptoms. This is especially important if you have a family history of either breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
What Types of Ovarian Cancer Are There?
There are three different kinds of ovarian cancer. The type of cancer a patient has depends on where exactly the cancer first began. The types of ovarian cancer include:
- Epithelial tumors
- Stromal tumors
- Germ cell tumors
About 90% of ovarian cancer patients have epithelial tumors. These tumors begin on the tissue layer that covers the outside of the ovaries. Stromal tumors make up 7% of ovarian cancer. These tumors begin on the hormone-producing tissue in the ovaries. Stromal tumors are also typically diagnosed at an earlier stage than the other types of tumors of ovarian cancer. Germ cell tumors are the least common, making up only 3% of ovarian cancer cases. These tumors form on the cells that produce eggs and are much more likely than the other two types to affect younger women.
What Are the Risk Factors Associated with Ovarian Cancer?
There are some factors that can increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. These risk factors include:
- Gene mutations (usually inherited)
- Family history
- Estrogen hormone replacement therapy
- Early menstruation
- Late menopause
Any woman of any age can develop ovarian cancer, but it’s most common in older women, typically between the ages of 50 and 60. The genes that can cause ovarian cancer are BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, which also increase the risk of developing breast cancer. If someone has a family history of ovarian cancer, which typically means two or more relatives, generally close relatives, who have had ovarian cancer, there’s also an increased risk.
How Can I Prevent Ovarian Cancer? How Can I Prevent Ovarian Cancer?
There isn’t any way to actually prevent ovarian cancer. However, there are ways to reduce your risk of developing it. Taking oral contraceptives may reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. However, oral contraceptives come with their own risks and side effects, so it’s important to discuss your options with your doctor.
Many of the risk factors of ovarian cancer can’t be changed, but if you’re more at risk because of a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, you can visit a genetic counselor at your doctor’s recommendation. The counselor can discuss your options with you and may recommend that you take a genetic test. If the test shows that you do have the genetic mutation that increases your risk of developing ovarian cancer, you could elect to pre-emptively have your ovaries surgically removed to prevent them from becoming cancerous.
How Is Johnson & Johnson Liable?
The lawsuits against Johson & Johnson pursued by women who had developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder claimed that the company knew about the risks and failed to warn people of the risks. During a trial against the company, an attorney for Johnson & Johnson admitted that the company had known about the risk of ovarian cancer, but had decided against putting a warning label on the packaging because the company had deemed the risk insignificant.
Has Talcum Powder Been Recalled?
In May of 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced that it was discontinuing its baby powder that contained talc in both the United States and Canada. The company did not issue a recall, instead discontinuing the product because of declining sales. Johnson & Johnson stood by the safety of its product, stating that changes in consumer purchasing habits caused by misinformation about the product’s links to cancer were to blame. The company continued to deny the allegations that the product was linked to cancer.
The year before, however, Johnson & Johnson did have to recall 33,000 bottles of baby powder containing talc because they were found to have asbestos, which is a known carcinogen. However, the company later said that they’d retested their talc-based baby powder and had found no traces of asbestos in it.
What Talcum Powder Lawsuit Settlements Are There?
The first talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuit was won against Johnson & Johnson in federal court in 2013. One of the leading experts in talcum-related cancer research, Dr. Daniel Cramer, testified on behalf of the plaintiff and suggested talc has been the cause of a number of ovarian cancers throughout the years.
During the course of the trial, a Johnson & Johnson attorney admitted the company was aware of the link between talcum powder and cancer but viewed the risk as insignificant and neglected to warn consumers of the potential danger on the product’s label. At the same time, the company was increasing the marketing activities of its products, particularly in the African-American and Hispanic demographics.
Since 2013, a number of lawsuits have resulted in large jury awards against Johnson & Johnson. Notable cases include:
- 2016 – $72 million awarded to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer after using talcum powder for decades
- 2016 – $55 million to a woman who required multiple surgeries, including hysterectomy due to ovarian cancer
- 2016 – $70 million award a woman who was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer and who had used talcum powder for 40 years
- 2017 – $417 million to a woman who developed terminal ovarian cancer after using talcum powder for a number of years
- 2017 – $110 million to an ovarian cancer patient who had used talcum powder for 40 years
- 2018 – A Missouri jury awarded $4.69 billion to a group of 22 women who were all diagnosed with ovarian cancer and who had used talcum powder products for a number of years
Talcum powder cancer lawsuits are just the most recent in a long list of product liability lawsuits brought against Johnson & Johnson. Notable J&J medical injury lawsuits include those filed for injuries by medical devices such as transvaginal mesh, Bausch & Lomb contact lenses, hip replacement, prescription drugs.
What Talcum Powder Lawsuits Are There?
Over $5 billion has been awarded to ovarian cancer lawsuit plaintiffs but more than 9,000 cases have yet to be settled including:
- 6,900 federal lawsuits in U.S. District Court in New Jersey
- 500 state lawsuits in New Jersey State Court in Atlantic County
- 800 state lawsuits in Los Angeles Superior Court in California
- 1,700 state lawsuits in St. Louis Circuit Court in Missouri
Should I Consider Hiring a Talcum Powder Lawyer?
If you have used a talcum powder-based product and have developed ovarian cancer as a result, you may have a case against Johnson & Johnson. Discuss your cancer first with your doctor to ensure that there isn’t another possible cause. Many law firms, such as Seeger Weiss, will offer a free consultation to determine whether or not you have a case.
Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA.