Talcum powder has been sold by Johnson & Johnson for more than 100 years. Its baby powder was introduced in 1894 and sold in a metal tin. Since then, it’s become a staple product used to keep both babies and women fresh and dry. But recently, the seemingly harmless powder has come under fire. Some reports associate genital talc use directly with increased risk for ovarian cancer. Still others believe these allegations are absurd. Regardless, a St. Louis jury ruled that talcum powder contributed to ovarian cancer that killed 61-year-old Jacqueline Fox. Partly due to scientific evidence presented in court, a jury awarded $72 million in damages to Fox’s son, Marvin Salter. So, does talcum powder actually cause ovarian cancer? Here’s what talcum powder cancer studies have to say:
Talcum Powder Cancer Studies in the 1970s
Researchers published the first study linking talcum powder to cancer in 1971, citing the chemical similarity between talc and asbestos. The Henderson et.al., 1971 study conducted in Great Britain analyzed 13 ovarian tumors. Within 10 of them, researchers found talc particles “deeply embedded.” The study raised a possibility that talcum powder could pose a cancer risk. Of course, it also spurred several more studies trying to determine whether or not a direct link existed.
Talcum Powder Studies in the 1980s
Doctor Daniel Cramer, a Harvard professor, at Boston hospital led one 1982 study. He assessed 215 white women with epithelial ovarian cancer as well as 215 control subjects. Dr. Cramer matched female subjects by age, race, and residence. Of those, 92% reported regular talcum powder use, either as a dusting powder on the perineum or on sanitary napkins. The study found an increased ovarian cancer risk when using talcum powder for perineal dusting. In fact, it showed women regularly engaged in perineal talcum powder dusting were nearly twice as likely to develop ovarian cancer.
The study concludes, “Apparently implantation of foreign bodies into the lumens of epithelial lined organs provides a favorable environment for carcinogenesis.” Although widely publicized at the time, the findings weren’t enough for Johnson & Johnson to update its warning label.
Talcum Powder Cancer Studies in the 1990s
Dr. Daniel Cramer conducted a second follow-up study in 1999. This study (also called The Nurses’ Health Study) looked at 700 female registered nurses in the United States, aged 30-55 years at enrollment in 1976. Researchers had subjects answer a questionnaire to establish which subjects used talcum powder. Since that time, 307 epithelial ovarian cancers were diagnosed by these women through June 1, 1996. One type of ovarian cancer in particular saw a major spike among talc users. Talc use caused 40% increase, despite few indications it could affect other forms of ovarian cancer. The study concludes, “Perineal talc use may modestly increase the risk of invasive, serious ovarian cancer.”
Related: Talc-Free Makeup Brands: We List Our Top 10 Favorites
Talcum Powder Cancer Studies in the 2000s
A 2004 study published in the International Journal of Cancer included 22 counties across California. Researchers interviewed 256 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer between 2000-2001 via telephone. They also included 1,122 controls matched with subjects according to their age and ethnicity. Researchers asked participants about menstrual and reproductive experience, hormone use, surgical history and family cancer history. Questions on perineal talcum powder use asked about frequency, duration of use, and specific years used. The study concludes, “Talc use and EOC (epithelial ovarian cancer) were highest in women with serious invasive tumors… This study provides some support of the hypothesis that perineal talc use is associated with an increased risk of EOC.”
Pooled Analysis of Talcum Powder Cancer Studies
Due to many studies linking perineal powder use with increased ovarian cancer risk, researchers decided to pool them all for analysis. This talcum powder cancer study review conducted in 2013 looked at 8,525 cases and 9,859 controls. Researchers said that “Meta-analyses of observational studies show 33%-35% increased risk of ovarian cancer among women who have used genital powders.” However, they also state that a dose-response relationship “has been inconsistent.”
This analysis essentially estimates the connection between self-reported genital talc use and epithelial ovarian cancer. Taking individual data and controls into perspective, they found genital powder use modestly increases risk for EOC.
Talcum Powder Cancer Studies on African-American Women
This study acknowledges the various studies done on increased ovarian cancer risk among women who use talcum (genital) powder, but in particular looks at the relationship between powder use and African American women, among whom, have a high prevalence of use.
Taking 584 cases and 745 controls enrolled in the African-American Epidemiology Cancer Study, they found a definitive association between genital (and non-genital) powder exposure and EOC risk. “An association between powder use and upper respiratory conditions suggests an enhanced inflammatory response [that] may explain the association between body powder and EOC.”
In conclusion, body powder is “significantly associated with EOC risk” among African-American women. They also determined that body powder is “a modifiable risk factor for EOC among AA women.”
Recent Case-Control Cancer Studies
Dr. Daniel Cramer revisited the talcum powder and EOC association in a 2016 case-controlled study. Examining 2,041 cases with EOC and 2,100 age and residence matched controls, they used Wald statistics, likelihood-ratio tests, and other forms of statistics to calculate confidence intervals.
Overall, genital talc use increases a woman’s risk for developing EOC. The findings also show an increasing risk trend based on number of years using talc. Increased risk for EOC from genital talc use varies, but observations suggest “estrogen and/or prolactin may play a role via macrophage activity and inflammatory response to talc.”
What All This Research Means to You
For many women, these studies offer disturbing evidence that their continued talcum powder use could have if not caused, increased their risks of developing EOC. As a result, these studies provide evidence in lawsuits across the country for women suing Johnson & Johnson. These plaintiffs allege that J&J failed to warn them about the ovarian cancer risk from perineal talc use.
If you or a loved one used talcum powder and developed ovarian cancer afterwards, you may be eligible for compensation. Fill out a free talcum powder case review to see if you may have a claim.
Related: Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer: A Historical Timeline
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.