The majority of existing research on the potential link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer has focused on the risk of cancer among women who use talc-based powders for feminine hygiene purposes, indicating that talc particles applied to the genital area or on condoms, diaphragms or sanitary napkins could travel through the vagina, uterus and fallopian tubes to the ovaries and cause cancer. However, a new study published late last month in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine raises new concerns about the potential for women who inhale talcum powder particles to develop ovarian cancer. If you or someone you love used a talc-based baby or body powder in the past and has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer or another type of cancer, consult an experienced talcum powder cancer attorney today to discuss your legal options.
Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral comprised mainly of magnesium, oxygen, hydrogen and silicon. As a powder, talc helps cut down on friction, which can prevent rashes, and absorbs moisture well, which helps fight odor. Because of these naturally beneficial qualities, talcum powder is an ingredient used in many cosmetics and has also been applied by generations of women to the genital area for feminine hygiene purposes. Despite this widespread use, however, scientific research dating back to the 1960s has questioned the safety of talc and since the 1970s, there have been growing concerns about the potential contamination of talc with asbestos, a substance that is known to cause cancer when inhaled.
As of 1976, when the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association issued new guidelines stating that all talc used in cosmetic products should be free from detectable amounts of asbestos, talcum powder products no longer contain asbestos. However, as the FDA states, “Both talc and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals that may be found in close proximity in the earth” and “There is the potential for contamination of talc with asbestos.” That means people who use talc-based cosmetics and other products may be unknowingly exposed to an increased risk of cancer from asbestos. In fact, another study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2019 highlighted 33 cases of mesothelioma cancer in people whose only exposure to asbestos was through the use of contaminated talcum powder.
In this latest study, researchers studied 10 women with serous ovarian cancer who used Johnson & Johnson “cosmetic” talc products and reported finding talc in the tissues of all 10 women. In addition to testing for talc particles, the researchers also conducted an asbestos exposure assessment during talc application and analyzed surgical tissues and talc containers for asbestos. They reported finding tremolite and/or anthophyllite asbestos in eight out of the 10 cases and determined that the asbestos fibers found in the talc containers matched those found in the tissue. Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that “the inhaled dose of asbestos/fibrous talc from ‘cosmetic’ talc use causes ovarian cancer.” They also noted that “The unique combination of the types of asbestiform minerals detected in cancerous tissue and ‘cosmetic’ talc is a fingerprint for exposure to asbestos-containing talc.”
This new research comes as J&J attempts to defend itself against more than 14,500 talcum powder lawsuits filed in the federal court system on behalf of former Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower body powder users who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer and other cancers allegedly caused by their exposure to J&J talc products. All of the talcum powder lawsuits involve similar allegations that J&J knew or should have known about the potential for talcum powder to cause ovarian cancer and other serious side effects, yet failed to disclose this risk to consumers and the medical community. Due to the fact that the talcum powder lawsuits involve common questions of fact and law, the litigation has been consolidated for coordinated pretrial proceedings and centralized in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey before U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson.
In response to increasing concerns about the potential connection between talcum powder and cancer, the FDA is conducting an ongoing survey of talc-containing cosmetics to determine whether the products contain asbestos. In October 2019, the agency advised consumers to stop using certain cosmetic products after product samples of J&J Baby Powder tested positive for asbestos. The agency has also announced that it will hold a public meeting in February 2020 to discuss testing methods for asbestos in talc and cosmetic products containing talc.