Baby Powder and Body Powder Linked to Cancer Is Startling News to Many
Multiple personal injury lawsuits by American women and/or their families claim that they contracted ovarian or cervical cancer from their use of talcum powder products. Because these are well-known consumer products — including Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower body powder — the idea that they could cause cancer is startling to many people.
Women who use talcum powder products and/or their families are correct to question their exposure to the risk of ovarian or cervical cancer. They are right to ask how this could be allowed to happen. They should seek to learn what this means for their own health.
Unfortunately the news of the link between talcum powder and ovarian and cervical cancer is not “news” in the traditional sense at all. In fact, studies since the 1970s have repeatedly cited the risk. But, as the attorneys of Stern Law and many others contend, talcum powder product makers like Johnson & Johnson hid their knowledge of the risk of cancer from using talcum powder from the public. This violation of the public trust is the basis of personal injury lawsuits that are in the courts today and are yet to come, and their demand for compensation to the women and families who have be unjustly harmed.
What Makes Talcum Powder Use a Cancer Risk?
The problem with talcum powder is its fundamental ingredient — talc.
Talc is a mineral primarily composed of the elements silicon, magnesium and oxygen. It is known as a “silicate mineral,” which makes it one variation of the most common rock-forming minerals on earth.
However, talc is often found in the ground alongside tremolite, another silicate mineral which contains a form of asbestos. Asbestos, a fiber known for absorbing heat and used in insulation and fire-proofing materials, is a known carcinogen. If inhaled, asbestos can cause mesothelioma, which is an incurable lung cancer.
The two concerns about talc as a safety risk are:
- Tremolite asbestos is mined along with talc and makes its way into talcum powder products
- Talc, which is chemically similar to tremolite, may be a carcinogen.
It is believed that talcum powder products have not contained asbestos since the 1970s. However, in 2015, four brands of children’s crayons and two toy crime lab kits were removed from store shelves because they were found to contain asbestos thought to have come from contaminated talc.
And, a Seattle newspaper’s investigations in 1999 and 2000 reported on the continued mining of asbestos along with vermiculite, a hydrous phyllosilicate mineral used in gardening materials, in Virginia and Montana.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), classifies talc that contains asbestos as “carcinogenic to humans” and the perineal (genital) use of talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
Why Is Talc Linked Specifically to Ovarian and Cervical Cancer?
Talcum powder is a fine, white powder used as an absorbent, soother and smoother. It can also be used to soothe extra-dry skin and prevent chafing. Body powders containing talc help absorb bodily oils and other moisture, smooth the skin, and impart fragrance if that has been added to the product.
This is why talcum powder is used on babies’ bottoms to prevent diaper rash. Many women use baby powder or body powder in their underpants, on condoms and in sanitary napkins.
What several studies have concluded is that talcum powder can migrate from undergarments or other use in women’s genital area into the vagina. From there, talc (and any asbestos present) can make its way to the cervix, which is between the vagina and uterus, and as far as the ovaries on either side of the uterus.
Prolonged exposure of cervical or ovarian tissue to talc apparently causes the type of cellular change that results in cancer. Though there are many types of cancer, it is normally referred to according to its point of origin. Thus, ovarian cancer refers to tumors found in the ovaries, and cervical cancer refers to cancer cells first identified in the cervix.
Therefore, if powders containing talc, i.e., talcum powder, may cause ovarian or cervical cancer, it is unsafe for women to use talcum powder products in the genital area.
Talcum powder is also found in makeup, such as blush and eyeshadow. The danger of lung cancer in women using facial makeup with talcum powder is not documented, but some studies of talc miners and millers have suggested an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
In addition, pediatricians and others have for decades warned mothers to avoid over-powdering babies and to keep baby powder away from children to avoid inhaling or swallowing powder, either of which can cause talcum powder poisoning.
Infants who inhale baby powder may experience shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and, in some cases, acute or chronic lung irritation. Infants who ingest talcum powder over long periods of time can experience symptoms of asthma or contract pneumonia.
Johnson & Johnson Ignored Talcum Powder Cancer Risk, Evidence Shows
As clinical studies over four decades have revealed, and multiple cancer awareness and support organizations have acknowledged, there is some level of positive correlation between women’s use of talcum powder near their genitals and an increased risk of ovarian and cervical cancer.
What makes this a legal issue is the fact that, as lawyers investigated the incidence of ovarian cancer after prolonged talcum powder use, they found evidence that Johnson & Johnson knew of the risk, yet failed to warn consumers.
Internal Johnson & Johnson documents show that J&J officials knew about, discussed and disregarded the risk posed by talcum powder.
A letter to the CEO of J&J on November 10, 1994 expresses direct concern that “the frequent use of talcum powder in the genital area poses a serious risk of ovarian cancer.” The letter refers to a 1992 study conducted by Dr. Bernard Harlow, a leading ovarian cancer research from Harvard Medical School, which found “a threefold increase of ovarian cancer in women who used talcum powder in the genital area.”
In 1996, condom makers stopped using talcum powder in their products because of the links between talc and cancer, yet body and baby powder manufacturers did nothing to change their products or warn their customers. A Johnson & Johnson memo shows that, in fact, J&J increased its spending on talcum powder product advertising aimed at African American and Hispanic women, two groups known to use body powders more than white women.
In 2006, the IARC, the WHO cancer agency cited above, warned Johnson & Johnson that perineal use of cosmetic talcum powder was possibly carcinogenic. Margaret Gates, ScD, research fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, reported in 2011 that cornstarch was a safe and viable alternative to the use of talc in baby and body powders.
Years later, Deane Berg became the first woman to come forward to sue Johnson & Johnson over its negligence regarding talcum powder and ovarian cancer. J&J offered her a $1.3 million settlement, which included a confidentiality and nondisclosure clause. We know this because she rejected the deal. Eventually, she won her case but was awarded no money.
Since then, more than 1,000 women have made claims similar to Deane Berg’s, and two class action lawsuits were approved by courts in 2014. In another case, two families were awarded $127 million in damages. In May 2016, a Missouri jury awarded $55 million to a woman who developed ovarian cancer due to her regular use of Johnson & Johnson talcum powder in her genital area.
Stern Law Accepts Talcum Powder Ovarian and Cervical Cancer Cases
Do you or a loved one of yours have a history of talcum powder use that preceded a diagnosis of ovarian or cervical cancer? If so, you may be able to obtain compensation for the losses you have endured.
Ken Stern and the attorneys of Stern Law, PLLC, pursue legal claims for women who have suffered from ovarian or cervical cancer linked to long-term talcum powder use. The time to act is now to preserve your legal rights.
Contact Stern Law now for more information about scheduling your free, no-obligation case evaluation with one of our seasoned talcum powder injury lawyers. Stern Law seeks justice for the unjustly injured.
We can investigate your case, compare it to others and advise you of the best course of action for you. Our legal representation is personalized and uniquely tailored to each client’s needs and concerns. Call today to get answers to your questions and concerns.