Lawsuits continue to be filed against Johnson & Johnson, and the other manufacturers of Talcum Powder, on behalf of women that have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and believe their talcum powder may be a contributing factor.
It is imperative that women are warned about the risk of using Talcum Powder in their daily feminine hygiene routine! Increasing evidence suggests that this home staple found in the bathrooms and nurseries of American women for generations may be linked to ovarian cancer.
One recent study shows that women who commonly apply talc products to the (vaginal area) have a 33% increased chance of developing cancer.
What is Talc?
Talc is the common ingredient in the soft, sweet-smelling powder products used on babies’ bottoms and by women in an effort to keep their skin dry and avoid rashes. Magnesium, silicon, oxygen and hydrogen come together to create Talc.
Links Between Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer
As early as the 1970’s scientists began looking at the connection between the dusting of female genitals with talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Based on the marketing of these products to babies and as a feminine ritual, most people assume that such a common household item is safe to use.
Sadly, studies continue to confirm this connection – that talc particles applied to the genitals enter a woman’s reproductive tract through the vagina and continue to travel within the female body increasing the risk of ovarian cancer. However, up until this point, these studies have been kept out of the public eye, confined to medical journals and blog posts.
Since the FDA has very limited regulatory power over talcum powder (it is classified as a cosmetic product), it appears that the only way to get consumers the real truth behind this link is through lawsuits.
In early 2016, a lawsuit was filed in a St. Louis County court against Johnson & Johnson Inc. One plaintiff, Marvin Fox, filed suit on behalf of his mother, Jacqueline Salter Fox, who developed fatal ovarian cancer after 35 years of using Johnson & Johnson baby powder and shower products. Fox’s suit was part of a 60 person civil suit filed in Missouri. The jury charged the pharmaceutical company with fraud, negligence and conspiracy, and awarded Fox $10 million in damages and $62 million in punitive damages.
Fox was a loving mother, a foster mother, a care-taker, a hard working American, and, sadly, just one of the thousands of women who was put at an increased risk of ovarian cancer by using Shower-to-Shower. Just months before her death, Fox explained to attorneys, that she was “raised on” Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower talc. Like many women in the African American community, Fox was taught to use Shower talc as part of her daily feminine hygiene routine – just the way J&J intended it to be used.
The Fox Case was important in bringing forward some risk factors previously not considered. Although studies show that Caucasian women are at a higher risk than any other race to develop ovarian cancer, documents brought out during the trial show that Johnson & Johnson intentionally targeted African American and Hispanic women in their advertising of “A Sprinkle A Day.” And in fact, many African American and Hispanic women note that using talc for feminine hygiene was second nature and it had been a routine they followed as long as they can remember. The Fox case is likely to be the first of many cases brought by African American women and we expect to talk to many women in the Hispanic community for similar reasons.
African American woman who contract ovarian cancer as a result of talc use, have a much higher mortality rate - 7.2 black women per 100,000 died of the cancer compared to 4.1 per 100,000 for all other races.
Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer – Research Mounts
In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) scheduled a re-evaluation of talc. Based on limited data, they concluded that the inhalation of asbestos free (pharmaceutical grade) talc was not carcinogenic to humans. Based on limited research for its link to ovarian cancer, however, IARC concluded that pharmaceutical grade talc could be “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, “cosmetic products” and their ingredients (such as baby and shower powder) excluding additives, do not have to undergo FDA review or approval before they enter the market. Companies, however, have a legal responsibility to properly label their products with safety information and the ingredients in their products, but are not required to share this info with the FDA.
As of today, the FDA has not reported on the link between Talc and Ovarian Cancer.
On the other hand, in 2009, the FDA took steps towards finding a link between talc and lung cancer. Of the nine talc suppliers asked by the FDA to provide samples of talc for the study, only four complied with their request. They also sampled talc-containing cosmetic products in the study. The survey found that no asbestos fibers or structures were present in any of the samples. Because of the limited number of samples, the FDA finds the results “informative”, but cannot prove that most or all products in the United States containing cosmetic grade talc are free of asbestos.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20,000 women develop ovarian cancer in the U.S. annually. Of these cases, 14,500 are fatal.
In a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, scientists found that from 2003-2007 there were about 24.4 cases of ovarian cancer out of 100,000 women for white women.
The Fox lawsuit is the second Talc lawsuit to move through the courts, but is not likely to be the last. In an earlier federal lawsuit involving Shower-to-Shower, a jury found Johnson and Johnson liable for negligence but did not award the plaintiff, Dean Berg, any damages due to a lack of direct evidence linking talc products to her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. The jury did however hold that Johnson & Johnson lacked proper warning labels for their talc products.
The Berg case is important because it shows that women have no way of knowing that something they use in such a sensitive area on their bodies could increase their risk of a cancer diagnosis. Deane Berg spent a decade as a physician’s assistant in her hometown of Sioux Falls. And, even as a physician’s assistant, the jury agreed that Deane has no way of knowing that talc posed potential adverse effects for women. Berg, who continually used Johnston and Johnston feminine hygienic products over an extended time-period, developed stage 3 ovarian cancer.
There are currently around 1,000 cases pending against talc products, but since these powders are cosmetic products, regulatory authority by the FDA is limited, leaving women in the hands of the manufacturers. Johnson & Johnson continues to market their profitable talcum powder as a safe and consumer-friendly product.
The St. Louis Court verdict is a first step in the right direction. Women need to be warned that they are putting themselves at an increased risk of ovarian cancer when using a sprinkle a day for feminine hygiene. We look forward to getting word out to more women and to holding Johnson & Johnson accountable for their actions. We will continue to update this page as more information is disclosed.
Possible Link to Lung Cancer
In its natural form, talc contains asbestos, a proven cause of lung cancer. Talc miners and other jobs that involve a high risk of long-term exposure to natural (talc containing asbestos) talc fibers may have a higher chance of developing lung cancer from inhaling them.
All talcum products used in homes in the United States since the 1970’s have been asbestos free. Cosmetic grade talc is produced so that it conforms to the specifications of the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes it is unacceptable for cosmetic grade talc to be contaminated with asbestos.