It seems that there’s plenty of evidence that there’s more to talc and talcum powder than meets the eye. But how could a product that seems so innocent – it’s been used on countless generations of babies – actually be as deadly as some in the legal field are making it out to be?
Simple. Historically, talc – taken from mines throughout the world – has contained trace amounts of asbestos. (The two minerals are often found side by side.) And asbestos, everyone knows, is one of those things you don’t want to enter your body because it can make you sick. It might take decades, but it can definitely make you sick.
Most know that inhaling asbestos fibers – whether from talcum powder or from countless construction products – can cause an individual to develop mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that usually involves the lungs.
But what happens when you use asbestos-tainted talcum powder in the genital area. Can that cause cancer to develop as well?
That’s certainly the question of the hour, and many scientists say “yes”, talc certainly can cause ovarian cancer while others – mostly those working for companies like Johnson & Johnson – say it’s not possible.
Other scientists maintain that there’s simply more research to be done.
But one can’t ignore the number of cases of ovarian cancer among women who have used talc-based products, such as Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder ™ or Shower to Shower™, for decades.
The Talcum Powder Ovarian Cancer Debate
The potential link between talc and ovarian cancer is really not a new topic. The first clue that there may be a connection surfaced way back in 1971, when scientists put out a paper that outlined how they found asbestos particles embedded in ovarian and cervical cancer tumors.
They wrote that it is “impossible to incriminate talc as a primary cause of carcinomatous changes,” based solely on what was described in the study; however, “the possibility that talc may be related to other predisposing factors should not be disregarded.”
They suggested more research, and a Harvard professor, Dr. Daniel Cramer, was the one who continued to delve into the science behind talc and ovarian cancer connections about a decade later, discovering that women who had ovarian cancer were more likely to have used talcum powder in their genital area.
This study, and others done by Cramer, began to attract the attention of other doctors and, soon, Cramer’s work became the basis for many more studies that raised similar suspicions that there was a connection between consistent, regular talcum powder use and ovarian cancer.
But still, agree most researchers and oncologists, the specific cause of any kind of cancer is difficult to prove, which is why juries often have such a difficult time deciding for one side or another in talc-related cancer cases that have reached the courts.
Many will argue that the only cause for cancer is genetic mutations and, indeed, expert witnesses for J&J maintain that talc does not cause those mutations.
Nonetheless, over the years, there’s been enough of a connection for health organizations world-wide to stand up and take notice. Even the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Cancer Research has classified the use of talc in the genital area as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
The Talc – Ovarian Cancer Evidence
Johnson & Johnson, on the other hand, has long argued that their talc-based products are safe and that there’s never been a reason for consumers to be concerned about using it at any time or even all the time.
Yet, attorneys regularly cite internal memos of years past – sent between J&J higher-ups – expressing concern about asbestos found in the talc sold to them by companies like Imerys Talc America, which has been named as an additional defendant in many of the Johnson & Johnson lawsuits.
These memos date from decades ago, which show that the concern was real even back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. They also show that J&J (and other companies that produced talcum powders) did nothing to warn their consumers of the potential risks from inhaling talc dust or using the powder in their genital area, where it seems to be doing the most harm.
Both Johnson & Johnson and Imerys have released numerous statements referring to the scientific evidence used by attorneys in talc-related ovarian cancer cases as akin to “junk science”.
In a recent statement to the press, Imerys spokesperson Gwen Myers said the following:
“We remain confident in the consensus of government agencies and professional scientific organizations that have reviewed the safety of talc, that talc is safe. Imerys Talc America sympathizes with women suffering from ovarian cancer and hopes that the scientific community’s efforts will be directed toward finding the true causes of this terrible disease.”
It’s statements like these that have victims shaking their heads, especially since so many in the scientific community agree that their suffering could have potentially been avoided had the $336 billion dollar consumer products giant simply placed a warning on the label of it’s iconic baby powder.
In the meantime…
A few companies have decided that it’s prudent to think about putting that aforementioned warning on their products. Assured’s Shower & Bath Absorbent Body Powder includes a label that says it is “intended for external use only” and that “Frequent application of talcum powder in the female genital area may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.”
The big guys refuse to follow suit, however. Johnson & Johnson executives say they would never include such a label and said it would be “confusing” since their powder has nothing to do with the development of ovarian cancer.
But, still, many top scientists back the women who are now suffering with aggressive ovarian cancer, one of the deadliest forms of the disease. Even the American Cancer Society, which maintains that research into the connection needs to continue, offers the following advice.
“Until more information is available, people concerned about using talcum powder may want to avoid or limit their use of consumer products that contain it.”
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