Can Talc Really Lead to Cancer?
On Monday, a St. Louis jury found that regular use of Johnson & Johnson talcum powder led to a woman's death from ovarian cancer. But scientists are not so sure.
Talcum powders are made of talc, a mineral comprised of bits of magnesium, silicon and oxygen that absorbs moisture. In its natural form, some talc contains asbestos, a known carcinogen. But since the 1970s all commercial products sold in the United States have been mandated to be asbestos-free.
The jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million in damages to the family of the woman. She had used their talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower for several decades. The company maintains that the safety of cosmetic talc "is supported by decades of scientific evidence."
The concern from researchers has focused on whether long-term exposure to talc fibers might cause lung cancer among talc miners, and whether women who routinely applied talcum powder on their genitals had an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Findings about talc miners exposed to talc containing asbestos have been mixed, but no increased lung cancer risk was foundfrom asbestos-free talc products.
That leaves the question of ovarian cancer.
Some experts believe it is possible in theory for talc to reach the ovaries by traveling up the vagina, through the uterus and Fallopian tubes and into the ovaries, where it causes inflammation. However, two separate studies failed to show any association between talc use and increased risk of ovarian cancers.