Talcum Powder & Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer has a high mortality rate due to unreliable early screening methods. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 21,410 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2021, and 13,770 succumbed to the disease. The five-year relative survival rate is just 49.1%.

Ovarian cancer is uncommon, accounting for only 1.1% of all new cancer cases. However, it accounts for 2.3% of cancer deaths. Most women would never knowingly use a product that increases their risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Sadly, many ovarian cancer victims were unknowingly exposed to such a risk when they used talcum powder, especially in feminine hygiene applications. These products were heavily marketed as safe by manufacturers, who continued to offer and promote them even after their dangers came to light.

What is Talcum Powder?

Talc is a naturally occurring mineral composed of magnesium silicate. It is the softest mineral on earth and is valued for its moisture- and odor-absorbing qualities. It is mined from the Earth, often from mines containing asbestos. The result is a prevalence of asbestos-contaminated talc. 

Talc is the primary ingredient in talcum powder. The most widely used formulation, Johnson’s Baby Powder, was first made available to the public in 1894. The company started actively marketing the product for “intimate feminine use” during the 1970s.

Despite growing safety concerns, Johnson & Johnson has continued marketing the products and even increased marketing to minority women, who tend to be the most frequent users. The most widely used formulations include Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Body Powder.

Studies that Link Talcum Powder to Ovarian Cancer

Women use talcum powder for feminine hygiene by applying it directly to the genital area to absorb moisture and odors. The microscopic dust and fibers can travel through the reproductive tract and form deposits on the fallopian tubes and ovaries. This causes inflammation and may lead to the formation of cancer cells in the fallopian tubes and epithelial tissues surrounding the ovaries.

High-Grade Serous Epithelial Ovarian Cancer

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has found a consistent connection between talcum powder and epithelial ovarian cancer, which starts in the tissue that covers the ovaries. The most common type of epithelial ovarian cancer and the type most clearly associated with perineal talc use is serous carcinoma.

Serous carcinoma is divided into two subtypes: high-grade and low-grade. The high-grade spreads faster and is more dangerous. This type is often undiagnosed until it has reached later stages. Unfortunately, the high-grade type has the strongest association with talcum powder.

A 2019 study analyzed the tissue samples of ten women with high-grade serous ovarian cancer. All ten samples contained talc, and eight of the ten contained asbestos. The asbestos was consistent with the type typically associated with cosmetic talc. These women had no other known exposure to asbestos in their lifetimes.

Talc Components in Tissue Samples

A study dating as far back as 1971 revealed the presence of talc particles in cancerous tissue samples of both the cervix and the ovaries. While asbestos contamination is a common factor in talc-related carcinomas, none was found in the samples obtained for this study. These findings suggest talcum powder could cause ovarian cancer even without the presence of asbestos. 

2016 Harvard Study

Harvard researchers noted an increased risk of invasive serous, endometrioid, borderline serous, and mucinous ovarian cancer tumors in women who used talcum powder for feminine hygiene purposes. It also showed the risk increased with the number of years talcum powder was used. The research also uncovered a link between asthma and talcum powder.

1992 Beijing Study

A study in Beijing, China, compared epithelial ovarian cancer risk factors with women in San Francisco, California. The study found perineal talc use elevated the risk for both groups and specifically mentioned that the increased risk was observable after just three months of use in the San Francisco subjects. 

Epidemiologic Studies on African American Women

Due to the high prevalence of genital powder use among African American women, the African American Cancer Epidemiology Study (AACES) analyzed data in 584 cases of epithelial ovarian cancer in African American women. The study found a significantly elevated risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer in African American women who had used talcum powder for feminine hygiene.

Subjects who used talcum powder exclusively for non-genital uses also experienced a heightened risk, especially of the non-serous varieties of epithelial ovarian cancer. All talcum powder users in this study experienced a higher risk of upper respiratory conditions.

Have there been any successful lawsuits against talcum powder manufacturers?

The first lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson was brought by Deane Berg, an ovarian cancer survivor who had used talcum powder products for feminine hygiene since she was 18 years old. She was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer at 49 years old. She turned down a settlement of $1.3 million because she did not wish to keep it confidential. 

She filed her lawsuit in 2013. The jury found Johnson & Johnson negligent for failing to warn about the cancer risks.  

This lawsuit exposed the truth about talcum powder to the public and paved the way for future litigation against companies like Johnson & Johnson. They have since paid billions in damages to thousands of plaintiffs. In June 2020, in a case involving 22 women, J&J was ordered to pay $2.12 billion in compensatory and punitive damages. That case was tried by Mark Lanier and The Lanier Law Firm, where The Meadow Law Firm attorney Richard Meadow is a partner. Johnson & Johnson faces 19,000 more cases.

What establishes liability when ovarian cancer is linked to talcum powder use?

Manufacturers owe the public a duty to provide safe products. When manufacturers become aware that a product is dangerous, they have a responsibility to warn and protect the public. Failure to do so is negligence.

Johnson & Johnson has created a dangerous product and failed to warn the public. They made extensive efforts to cover up the truth through the following evasive measures:

  1. They made false claims to the FDA in 1976 that their products were asbestos-free despite the results of three separate lab tests from 1972 to 1975 showing varying levels of asbestos in their talcum powder, with one test scoring “rather high.”
  2. They failed to disclose asbestos-positive test results to regulators and the public from at least 1971 to the early 2000s.
  3. They became aware of the possibility of contamination at least as early as 1957 but notified no one.
  4. They ignored a 1973 memo by a researcher that warned the company that it would be impossible to create a final product that is “totally free from respirable particles.”

Liability is established when you can prove the company was negligent and that the negligence caused your illness. Despite the known dangers, Johnson & Johnson has continued its negligence by producing and marketing a dangerous product without warning the public of its dangers.

What if I have been using talcum powder all my life?

In 2020, Johnson & Johnson replaced the talc in their powder formulas in the United States and Canada with cornstarch, which has no known association with cancer risks. If you are still using a talc-based powder, consider switching to a cornstarch-based powder. A study at Harvard noted a decrease in cancer risk over time when talcum powder use is discontinued.

If you are concerned you may be at risk, express your concerns to your health care provider. As with any other cancer, early detection is critical. Although there are no reliable early screening tests for ovarian cancer, you can take the following measures to increase your chances of detecting it early:

  1. Follow your recommended pelvic screening schedule. While these screenings may not detect ovarian cancer, they can detect other reproductive cancers.
  2. Talk to your doctor about unusual symptoms. Ovarian cancer is often asymptomatic in the early stages, but some women do experience mild symptoms, such as:
    • Bloating
    • Pelvic or abdominal pain
    • Feeling full quickly when eating
    • Urinary symptoms
    • Back pain
    • Pain during intercourse
    • Irregular menstrual bleeding
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What can I do if I have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using talcum powder?

If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, seek treatment immediately. Earlier treatment may improve your prognosis.

If you have ever used talcum powder, it may have caused your cancer. It is crucial to seek legal counsel as soon as possible after your diagnosis so a lawyer can start investigating your case for causative factors.

How can I prove talcum powder caused my case of ovarian cancer?

Long-term talcum powder use followed by a case of ovarian cancer—especially of the serous epithelial variety—is a strong indication of talcum powder culpability. You should tell your doctor about your use of talcum powder so it is documented in your medical report. Ask your doctor to obtain tissue samples from your ovaries and fallopian tubes to test for talc and asbestos.  

Every case is unique. Richard Meadow and the attorneys at The Meadow Law Firm have the expertise to review your medical records and determine what evidence you need to build a strong case. Contact Rick and The Meadow Law Firm today to discuss your case.

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