Around 2,000 women have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson for failing to warn about the risk of ovarian cancer from talcum powder products like Shower-to-Shower and Baby Powder.
Last year, three trials ended in juries awarding around $200 million to victims. Lawyers cited a number of studies estimating a 20-30% increased risk of ovarian cancer from talcum powder.
On January 11, yet another study linking talc and cancer was published in the European Journal for Cancer Prevention. According to Dr. Paolo Boffetta, associate director for cancer prevention at Mount Sinai Hospital:
Overall, it is about a 20 percent higher risk for women who say they used talc, compared to women who say they did not use it.”
The conclusions of the study were based on a meta-analysis of 27 studies involving 302,705 women with ovarian cancer.
The risk was limited to serous carcinoma, which is a type of ovarian cancer that starts in epithelial cells on the surface of the ovary.
This type of ovarian cancer is a lot like mesothelioma, which starts in epithelial cells on the surface of the lungs. Mesothelioma is caused by asbestos — a mineral that is very similar to talcum powder — and before 1976, many popular talc products were contaminated.
For example, in 1976, Dr. Arthur Rohl tested a feminine powder called Cashmere Bouquet and found that it had 8-20% asbestos fibers. Last year, a jury in California awarded $13 million to a woman who developed mesothelioma after using Cashmere Bouquet.
Talcum powder is now asbestos-free, but studies are still associating exposure with higher rates of cancer. In 2003, another meta-analysis of 16 studies involving 12,000 women who used talcum powder on their genital area estimated a 33% increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Studies linking talc and cancer date back to the 1970s, when researchers found particles of talc in the ovaries of women who died of cancer. This study proved that talc particles are absorbed by the vagina and migrate through the entire reproductive system until they accumulate in the ovaries.