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Johnson & Johnson Lawsuit: Can Talcum Powder Cause Cancer?

One of the most commonly-used talcum powder was under hot water after reports show that it can cause cancer, but does it? The Missouri jury awarded $72 million settlement on Feb. 22 to the family of a women who died of ovarian cancer, which they claimed was caused by using Johnson & Johnson talcum powder for 50 years.

Jackie Fox from Birmingham, Alabama, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March 2013 and succumbed to the illness in October 2015. The jury awarded $10 million of actual damages and $62 million of punitive damages to her family.

The suit claimed that the talc content in Johnson & Johnson's iconic Baby Powder and Shower to Shower caused Fox to develop cancer after many decades of use for feminine hygiene.

What Chemicals Are In Johnson & Johnson's Products?

In 2009, a group called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics began a movement to push Johnson & Johnson to remove certain chemicals in their household and baby products.

The company agreed to consider removing chemicals namely 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, both listed as human carcinogens, from their products by 2015. These chemicals are found in baby's personal care products. Out of the products, 17 contained both chemicals, including Johnson & Johnson's Baby Shampoo.

Talc is a natural-occurring mineral containing magnesium, oxygen and silicon. It is commonly used in many cosmetics and personal care products. In its natural form, talc is known to contain asbestos, which is now dubbed as a carcinogen in and around the lungs when inhaled.

However, talc powders sold in the United States since the '70s do not contain asbestos since it was discovered to be cancerous. The link between asbestos-free talc powders and increased risk of cancer is still unclear.

Is It Time To Throw All Products Containing Talcum?

People use talcum powder since it absorbs moisture and reduces friction. It is used mainly to prevent rashes by keeping the skin dry. Many years ago, it was widely used among babies who use diapers until doctors advised against its use since it can lead to respiratory problems.

Health organizations do not specifically say whether talc is indeed dangerous to health but they advise against inhalation of the powder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not specifically list any physical or chemical dangers linked to talc but it notes that the substance may have effects on the lungs, resulting in talc pneumoconiosis.

The Link Between Talcum And Ovarian Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, it has been suggested that talcum powder might cause ovarian cancer if the powder is directly applied to the genital area, or on things like sanitary napkins and condoms. This allows the powder to travel through the vagina and other parts of the female reproductive organs including the ovaries.

A number of studies have looked into the possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer but the findings are mixed. Some studies point that there is a slightly increased risk and some have reported no link at all. Still, research in this area is ongoing to determine if talcum may really cause cancer of the ovaries.

Photo: Austin Kirk | Flickr

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