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Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Talcum powder or baby powder, is a common personal hygiene product. Many people use it to absorb moisture and reduce friction and discomfort and generally to stay fresh during a long day. It can be used on any part of the body, but it is regular use in the genital area that may lead to ovarian cancer in women. Evidence is growing that regular, long-term use of talcum powder can lead to an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. There are several examples of women who used it for decades and then were diagnosed with this cancer. Some of those women or their families are filing lawsuits and winning in court, proving that companies like Johnson & Johnson were negligent in failing to warn consumers of the risks. Talc, because it is a natural mineral, often contains traces of other minerals when it is mined. Asbestos is one of these additional minerals. Asbestos is natural, but it is also harmful to human health and is a known carcinogen. Accidentally inhaling, ingesting, or otherwise taking in fibers of asbestos can lead to tissue damage and cancer in some people.

The Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association, a trade group that represents manufacturers of these kinds of products, adopted guidelines in 1976 to ensure that talc products would not contain asbestos. The guidelines were voluntary and stated that any asbestos found in natural talc would be removed so that consumer products would not have any detectable levels. In spite of the guidelines designed to protect consumers from the harm of asbestos found in hygiene and other personal products, studies since the 1970s have found that talcum powder does still often contain the contaminant. One study tested several products and found that many contained asbestos that could easily be inhaled by anyone using them.

There are clear associations between long-term and regular use of talcum powder on the genitals and ovarian cancer in women. Studies have proven this link, although there is still only limited evidence that talcum powder is a definite cause. The connection between the two is strong, though, and the presence of asbestos, a known human carcinogen, is a reasonable explanation for how this product could lead to ovarian cancer. One study of note compared talcum powder use and rates of ovarian cancer in over 1,000 women. The study compared the personal hygiene habits of nearly 600 women with ovarian cancer and about 700 women without that diagnosis. The study found that regular use of talcum powder on the genitals increased the risk of developing ovarian cancer by 44 percent. The lifetime risk of ovarian cancer for women who used talcum powder was significantly higher than for those who did not. Another study found similar results after investigating more than 8,000 women. Johnson & Johnson lost a third straight trial over claims its talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer with a St. Louis jury awarding a California woman more than $70 million. J&J is accused of ignoring studies linking its baby powder and Shower-to-Shower talc products to ovarian cancer and failing to warn customers about the risk. Prior verdicts of $72 million and $55 million against the company in the first two talc claims to go to trial.

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