Talcum Powder Link to Ovarian Cancer Raises Worries about Using the Powder on Babies

F. A. KelleyJohnson & Johnson, Product Liabilities, Talcum Powder

J&J Accused of Hiding Talcum Powder Link to Ovarian Cancer

Amid concerns over the link between Johnson’s Baby Powder and ovarian cancer, many parents are concerned about whether talcum powder is safe for use on babies and young children.

In two trials in St. Louis this year, jurors have awarded millions in damages to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer and to a cancer survivor.

Because of uncertainty about the safety of talcum powder and other conventional baby products, parents are increasingly turning to natural alternatives. Specialty baby stores like Eat/Sleep/Play in Summerville, South Carolina, stock skin care products from small, parent-owned companies. Green + Lovely, one of the brands sold at Eat/Sleep/Play, offers an arrowroot powder as an alternative to talcum powder. Arrowroot- and cornstarch-based baby powders are available in health food stores, natural baby boutiques, and online retailers. In its first year, Jessica Alba’s Honest Company sold $10 million in natural baby products.

Talc is a naturally occurring mineral, and is widely used in cosmetics and personal care products because it absorbs moisture and helps prevent rashes. Talc is the main ingredient in Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower body powder. These powders have been best sellers for decades and have long been promoted as feminine hygiene products.

Johnson & Johnson is now the target of hundreds of lawsuits alleging that its talcum powders cause ovarian cancer. When women use talcum powder in the genital area or sprinkle it on their underwear, tampons, or sanitary pads, fine particles of talc can reach the ovaries. In one study, researchers found talc particles embedded in ovarian tumors.

Although Johnson & Johnson’s talc supplier added warning labels to talc in 2006, J&J did not add warnings to its powders, according to the New York Times. Johnson’s Baby Powder does carry a warning to keep the powder out of the reach of children and many pediatricians tell parents not to use talcum powder on babies because of inhalation risks. Condom and surgical glove makers have stopped dusting their products with talc.

Studies of the association between talcum powder and ovarian cancer have not shown a definitive link although a number of studies indicate an increased ovarian cancer risk in women with longer-term use of talcum powder in the genital area. Studies have shown up to a 40 percent higher risk of ovarian cancer. Many of the women who have filed lawsuits say they began using talcum powder as teenagers and continued to use it for decades.

Some 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, often after the disease and more than 14,000 women die from the disease annually. The odds of a woman in the U.S. developing ovarian cancer are 1 in 70, with the odds among talc users, 1 in 53, according to epidemiological studies. Because there is no approved screening method for the disease and early symptoms are often dismissed as menstrual or abdominal discomfort, the diagnosis often is not made until the disease is at an advanced stage, when it is harder to treat and has a worse prognosis.