Talcum Powder

Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer: A Historical Timeline

Since that first 2013 lawsuit against cosmetic manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, women fear increased ovarian cancer risks from talcum powder use. Many consumers believe talcum powder is 100% safe. This is especially true since J&J sold it to keep babies’ bottoms dry. In fact, talc and cancer research goes back almost 50 years. This poses an important question: If J&J knew about this risk all along, why wait until May 2020 to halt talcum powder sales after a 2019 asbestos contamination-related recall?

A Ritual Gone Wrong

Talcum powder has many uses, from infant care to absorbing excess scalp oil between shampoos. However, one use appears particularly dangerous: Near a woman’s genital area. Manufacturers marketed talc-based products for this specific use over several decades to women. After sprinkling talcum powder onto bed sheets or into clothing, particles can travel up into the woman’s body. Each particle may move up through the vagina, then into the fallopian tubes and ovaries.

Talc studies conducted over the past 40 years revealed up to 30% increased ovarian cancer risks. This is a significant increase, as ovarian cancer is often fatal. As women become aware of the risk they’ve sustained over the years, they wonder: Why are we just finding out about this now?

Related: Top 10 Talc-Free Baby and Body Powder Products

45 Years of Talcum Powder Suspicion

While researchers explored this issue in the 1960s, scientists published the first study linking talcum powder to ovarian tumors in 1971. British researchers dissected 13 ovarian tissue masses and found particles of talc embedded in 10 of them. While this did not necessarily indicate causation, it did raise many significant questions. Why would so many tumors have talcum powder in them? And what does that indicate in terms of ovarian cancer? This find spurred more studies that would take place over the next few decades.

Take a study conducted in 1982, for example. This time, an actual link was found between talc applied on the genital area and ovarian cancer instead of speculation. While it may have been more conclusive (and more alarming) than the test from the 1970s, however, no direct link of causation was determined at this time, either. Regardless, yet another test had determined a possible link, attracting the attention of cosmetic and drug makers.

Related: Talc-Free Makeup Brands: We List Our Top 10 Favorites

Petitions to the FDA Regarding Talcum Powder Safety Prove Ineffective

The Talc Interested Party Task Force was developed in 1992 to combat these studies. The group cited statistical insignificance in refuting any claims against talcum powder. This temporarily quelled the debate without attracting significant consumer attention. However, it did make several health organizations take notice. In 1994, the Cancer Prevention Coalition petitioned the FDA about talcum powder and potential side effects. However, the FDA rejected that request. According to the FDA, there was still a lack of causation, the absence of concrete evidence. The U.S. National Toxicology program made the same ruling in 2005. This action further limited legitimate ovarian cancer claims against baby powder and cosmetic manufacturers. Companies like Johnson & Johnson always have the same response: The link isn’t direct or causal from a biological standpoint. Therefore, they didn’t need to warn consumers about potential ovarian cancer risks.

The first silver lining came in 2006, when a branch of the World Health Organization listed talc as potentially carcinogenic. Though this was a powerful first step forward in terms of knowledge and drug-related justice, it wasn’t widely publicized. As a result, many women kept using talcum powder with no knowledge about the potential cancer risks. In 2013, Deane Berg filed the first lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson. Jurors reprimanded the company for negligence after reviewing decades of study data submitted into evidence. However, Berg won no financial compensation, despite the jury ruling in the plaintiff’s favor.

Since then at least 30 plaintiffs have won multimillion-dollar settlements in court due to J&J’s negligence. In fact, the company finally pulled all talcum powder products off store shelves permanently in May 2020. 

What You Can Do

If you or someone you know developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder, you may qualify for compensation. It’s a good idea to speak with an attorney familiar with this specific mass tort. To see instantly whether your claim may qualify for a cash settlement, fill out your free talc case review form today. Once you’ve submitted your information, an experienced lawyer will contact you to discuss how to get the justice and compensation you deserve.

Related: Risk Factors Strengthen Link Between Baby Powder and Cancer

Jared Heath

Jared Heath is the author of The Sound in the Silence. In his role as an SEO content and digital marketing strategist, Jared was directly responsible for managing DrugJustice.com's editorial calendar and published articles on this website from 2015 to 2016. He is now pursuing a new career as a chiropractor.