This week it was reported that Johnson and Johnson, the company that produces talcum powder, has lost a second court case where another woman has claimed that she developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder for feminine hygiene reasons.
The company has been instructed by a jury to pay a settlement of $55M to the claimant. This case follows a case in February of this year where the family of a women who died from ovarian cancer was awarded $72M after it was claimed that she developed ovarian cancer after using talcum powder for many years.
Johnson and Johnson will be back in court and may face a long stretch of court appearance as it faces 1,200 lawsuits accusing the company of not adequately warning women of the risks associated with using talc-based products.
The question is: is there a risk of developing ovarian cancer from the use of talcum powder? The short answer is, we don’t know.
Cancer Research UK says the following:
“Scientists are trying to see if this is the case, but for now the evidence is still uncertain. However, even if there is a risk it is likely to be fairly small.
“Cosmetic body and talcum powders often contain a mineral compound called talc. Several studies have looked at talcum powder use and ovarian cancer. While on the whole the studies have seen a modest increase in the risk of ovarian cancer in women who use talc on their genitals, the evidence isn’t completely clear. So we can’t be sure whether or not talc itself could cause ovarian cancer”
The Chief Executive of the UK’s leading ovarian cancer charity, Ovarian Cancer Action, has said the following on this issue:
“If you’re currently using talc, don’t panic. Given evidence is inconsistent we do advocate a ‘better safe than sorry’ attitude and advise that women using talc on their genitals stop doing so. But it’s important to remember that the suggested increased risk from using talcum powder is very small.
“While the relative increase of a third suggested by some studies sounds significant, the absolute risk of getting ovarian cancer still remains very low. We’re talking about the difference between a 2% risk and a risk of 2.5%.”
This sentiment about using talcum powder for personal hygiene reasons is echoed by the NHS who say:
“Most gynaecologists recommend using plain, unperfumed soaps to wash the area around the vagina (the vulva) gently every day, as opposed to talc or perfumed soaps, gels and antiseptics.”
The take home message is that there isn’t yet clarity on whether talcum powder increases risk of ovarian cancer and while this uncertainty remains it’s probably better to avoid using talcum powder on the genital area.