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2016 Public Health Update: Talc Baby Powder & Ovarian Cancers

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There is increasing evidence that talc baby powder, something consumers have believed was absolutely safe, is far from it. There is a growing body of evidence that prolonged and regular use of talc baby powder for feminine hygiene causes ovarian cancer, the most deadly form of gynecological cancer in women.  Moreover, consumers have routinely used the talc baby powder on babies daily, and even non-genitally applied baby powder has turned up in the ovaries of women who denied applying it genitally at all.

Related Articles and Videos on the Shocking Talc Powder-Ovarian Cancer Connection:

Baby powder has been around for quite a long time.  Johnson & Johnson was founded in the 1880s by the brothers Robert Wood, James Wood along with Edward Mead Johnson. Baby powder was one of the company’s first products.  J&J is a $74 billion-a-year business with more than 275 operating companies in over 60 countries.  J & J quietly sold the North American marketing rights to its “Shower to Shower” talc baby powder products to Valeant Pharmaceuticals in 2012.  One of the large North American miners of talc for use in baby powder is Imerys Group, which is a mineral based company with operations in over 50 countries.

talc cancer lawyer, talc cancer lawsuit, talc powder cancer, talc cancer attorney, talc class actionAlthough talcum powder is also commonly used on babies, to prevent diaper rash, talcum baby powders such as Johnson & Johnson (J & J) baby powders, Shower to Shower, and other drug store generic talc baby powder brands, are also widely used by adult women for general hygiene purposes.  Many companies marketing talc baby powders have long advocated using the product as a feminine hygiene drying agent, and women apply it directly to the genitals, inside panties, and inside feminine products then applied to the genitals.

This article focuses on talc alone, in light of growing evidence that feminine hygiene, genital use of talc in baby powder causes increased rates of ovarian cancer.  Medicine has long recognized various inhalation lung diseases caused by talc, such as talc pneumoconiosis, the scarring of the lungs caused by repeated inhalation of respirable talc particulate.

Timeline of Talc’s Connection to Ovarian Cancers in Women

In the 1960s, a link between talc and ovarian cancer was suggested by observations that some talc powders contained asbestos and that asbestos placed in animals transformed the single layer of the ovarian surface to a multilayered one with abnormal cells.

When OSHA first approached regulating asbestos in the early 1970’s, it was noted that some forms of mined talc were “asbestiform talc” a microscopic form of talc with similarities to mined asbestos.  But some other forms of talc, when mined, also contained asbestos, since asbestos was often co-mingled in mineral deposits with talc at various mines.  The talc mines in the U.S. have insisted for decades that their talc was free of asbestos, however, several recent studies have disputed that assertion.

A 1971 study found particles compatible with talc in human ovarian and uterine cancers.

A 1982 case–control study by Cramer was the first to link genital talc use with ovarian cancer. Dozens more followed confirming the association, although the talc industry continues to deny talc is a cause of ovarian cancer.

During the 1990’s the men’s condom industry stopped using talc in condoms partly due to the known risk that talc could be deposited inside the female vagina, migrate to the ovaries, and contribute to causing ovarian cancer.

By 2006, one of the largest U.S. talc mining companies began issuing written Material Safety Data (warning) Sheets to all its talc customers that talc may cause cancers.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) position is that studies of personal use of talcum powder have had mixed results, although there is some suggestion of a possible increase in ovarian cancer risk.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO) is influential in shaping medical and scientific opinions on carcinogens.  “A case-control study has suggested an approximate doubling in relative risk for ovarian cancer among women with perineal use of talc, but the possibility of recall bias cannot be ruled out,” IARC wrote in with regard to talcum powder cancer risks.  In 2010, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified perineal (genital) use of non-asbestos containing, talc-based body powder as ‘possibly’ carcinogenic to humans. IARC has determined that some talc contains asbestos fibers, and when those fibers are present, it makes talcum powder carcinogenic to humans, specifically increasing the risk of lung cancer among miners as well as mesothelioma.

2016 Talc Lawsuit Verdicts, & New Ovarian Cancer and Talc Studies Released

In 2016, two multi-million dollar ovarian cancer talc civil lawsuit verdicts were returned against Johnson & Johnson and one of the U.S. mine’s distributing talc.  The juries considered breach of warranty claims, negligence claims, distribution of unreasonably dangerous product claims, and “conscious disregard of public health” punitive damages claims that the women’s ovarian cancers were caused by genital talc use—as suggested by Johnson & Johnson’s own marketing.

Both verdicts were in favor of women who contracted ovarian cancers, were long term users of talc baby powder applied to the genital area, and the juries considered the medicine and science of both sides and concluded that the talc fibers caused the cancers.  “Science has been simple and consistent over the last 40 years: there’s an increased risk of ovarian cancer from genital use of talc,” one of the Plaintiff’s attorneys told jurors. “After we agreed [that talc use caused the plaintiff’s ovarian cancer], everything was easy,” jury forewoman Teri Brickey told Bloomberg News, referring to the jury’s 55 million dollar combined verdict, finding compensatory damages and punitive damages in the Ristesund trial. “We felt like they knew for decades that they should have put a warning on this product.”

As of the summer of 2016 most talc baby powder products sold in drug stores and online do not include any warnings about talc’s connection to ovarian cancers.

Subsequent to the large civil justice ovarian cancer lawsuit verdicts, two 2016 new ovarian cancer-talc studies were announced.

In May 2016, a large epidemiology (statistical) study entitled, Association between Body Powder Use and Ovarian Cancer: the African American Cancer Epidemiology Study (AACES), authored by UVA professor Joellen Schildkraut, et al, was published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention (May 2016), under a grant of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the NIH.  AACES is an ongoing study of invasive ovarian cancer in AA women in 11 locations (Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) involving over 1,000 women of African American heritage, 20 to 79 years of age with newly diagnosed epithelial ovarian cancer.

Professor Schildkraut summarized the findings by stating, “we found that the application of genital powder is associated with [contraction of ovarian cancer] in African American women, a novel observation in this population that is consistent with some large studies in whites. Our data are consistent with the notion that localized chronic inflammation in the ovary caused by exposure to genital powder contributes to the development of epithelial ovarian cancer.”

Also, in May 2016, Harvard Professor Dan Cramer, et al, published, The Association Between Talc Use and Ovarian Cancer: A Retrospective Case-Control Study in Two U.S. States (Epidemiology, May 2016) funded partly with a National Institute of Health grant, which retrospectively studied over 2,000 total women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and found that genital talc use was associated with a statistically significant increased risk of development of ovarian cancer, with a trend for increasing risk by years of use. The study noted that women who used talc were more likely to be older, heavier, asthma sufferers, and regular analgesic users as well.

What Should the Public, and Women Using Baby Powder Know?

There is a possible risk not only with direct genital use of baby powder containing talc and ovarian cancers, but there’s a possible association between simply using talc baby powder on babies and the risk for ovarian cancer as well.  Some pathology studies have found talc in women’s ovaries who never applied it directly to the genitals, and just used it on their babies. Medical studies have not revealed exactly why the microscopic talc fibers that lodge on or in the ovaries can cause scarring and initiation of cancer processes, although it could be connected to the shape of the microscopic talc fiber itself.  Nonetheless, it is shameful that J & J and other distributors of talc powders have not yet added appropriate warning labels.

The new African American 11 state study focusing on women of color points out that the use of talc baby powder applied to the genitals for feminine hygiene is a “modifiable risk factor” for ovarian cancer.

There are at least two immediate takeaways here: 1) check the label of any baby powder or similar powder product for “talc” and instead of buying and using any “talc” containing powder, buy a “corn starch” powder, as no studies have found corn starch to be a carcinogen or connected to female cancers.  There are many other powder products (for drying the feet or the shoes, for example, used by athletes and others) that may contain talc and consumers should buy corn starch and not talc versions of these products, since talc has long been associated with permanent lung diseases, especially in mine workers or occupational exposure situations.  And, 2) women should modify and stop using any talc powders as a feminine drying agent for their genitalia.

About the Author:

Richard N. Shapiro is a trial attorney with Shapiro, Appleton & Duffan law firm based in Virginia Beach, VA. His law firm is currently investigating and accepting talcum powder ovarian cancer cases.