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Can Baby Powder Really Give You Ovarian Cancer?


A Missouri court ruled that Johnson & Johnson must pay $72 million in damages to the family of a woman who developed and died from ovarian cancer after using J&J baby powder for feminine hygiene for 35 years. (Speaking of ovarian cancer, why is no one talking about it?)

The company is battling claims that they failed to warn consumers that its talc-based products could cause cancer. And this Missouri woman is not the first to take legal action—there have been about 1,000 cases filed in Missouri state court and another 200 in New Jersey, according to Reuters. However, this is the first case where a U.S. jury awarded damages for these claims.

"We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of consumers, and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial. We sympathize with the plaintiff's family but firmly believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of scientific evidence," Carol Goodrich, a Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman, told Reuters.

Baby powder is talcum powder, which is made from talc, a mineral that is good at absorbing moisture and helping to cut down on friction. In its natural form, some talc contains asbestos (which has been linked to an increased lung cancer risk when inhaled) but has been removed from all talc-based household products since the 1970s, according to the American Cancer Society. Even with the asbestos removed, studies provide inconclusive evidence for the link between using talc for feminine hygiene and the risk of developing gynecological cancers. (Pssst....Check out 4 Things You Didn't Know About Ovarian Cancer.)

The research rundown: Two 1999 studies published in the International Journal of Cancer investigated the link between genital talc exposure and the risk of cancer, and had slightly different results: one study concluded that there's a significant association between the use of talc in genital hygiene and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer (the most common form of ovarian cancer). The other study found little support for any substantial association between talc use and overall ovarian cancer risk but found that it may modestly increase the risk of a type of epithelial ovarian cancer. The results of a 2010 study suggest that perineal talcum powder use increases the risk of endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterus), particularly among postmenopausal women. But in 2013, a study found no significant trend in ovarian cancer risk with increasing number of lifetime powder applications down there, or among women who only reported using powder on other body parts. Similarly, a 2014 study found that women who had used talc powder on their genitals did not have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. 

Confused? Here's the short of it: "Some studies suggest baby powder increases ovarian cancer risk and others do not," says Monica Prasad, M.D., gynecological oncologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "There are so many factors that go into the development of ovarian cancer that we cannot easily point to one factor as causing ovarian cancer in a patient. That said, most clinicians do not recommend the use of talc containing powders in the perineal area. I would tell my patients not to use any talc-containing products to stay on the safe side."

So if you've been keeping fresh with baby powder for years, there's no need to panic—but you should probably rethink your habit, and try a non-talc powder. Johnson's makes versions made of pure cornstarch, or you can try this one from California Baby.


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