While several studies seemingly support the link between talcum powder, ovarian cancer, and mesothelioma, there are also a few claims that talc causes other cancer types, such as uterine cancer. Given that women are the most susceptible to this illness and typically use talc-based baby powder products on their genital area as part of a frequent feminine hygiene routine, the claim that talcum powder causes uterine cancer seems highly plausible.
But are there enough studies to support this claim? Does talcum powder really cause uterine cancer?
The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that, so far, there is only one study that provides a tangible link between uterine cancer and talcum powder. Because of the limited data available, the ACS recommends conducting more studies before medical experts can categorically say that talcum powder does cause uterine cancer.
A 2010 study by Stalo Karageorge, it found that perineal talcum powder use increases endometrial cancer risk. Endometrial cancer, the most common type of uterine cancer, is caused by the inflammation of the uterus lining — called endometrium — due to excessive use of talcum powder and frequent exposure to talc-based powder products.
The researchers discovered that as women consistently dust their genital areas with talc-based baby powder, the likelihood of talc particles traveling through the vagina and into the uterus then settling in ovarian tissues and pelvic lymph nodes significantly increases.
The study, which assessed 66,028 women diagnosed with invasive endometrial adenocarcinoma between 1982 and 2004, concluded that “although no association was observed overall, the variation varied by menopausal status.”
The findings also showed that among postmenopausal women, “ever use of talcum powder was associated with a 21% increase in risk of endometrial cancer, while regular use was associated with a 24% increase in risk.”
The researchers also observed a “borderline increase in risk with increasing frequency of use” of talc-based baby powder.
However, since this is the only known existing study examining uterine cancer and talcum powder’s link, it is still not enough to say that talc use leads to uterine cancer.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), uterine cancer is the most common cancer type that targets the female reproductive system. It develops when healthy cells in the uterus grow out of control and form either cancerous or benign tumors.
Cancerous tumors usually spread to other internal organs, resulting in a rapid deterioration of the body, while benign tumors generally do not spread.
Women who have uterine cancer often experience extreme and persistent pain in the pelvic area, as well as unusual and abnormally heavy and prolonged vaginal bleeding, spotting, or discharge. A Pap test — usually done to look for cervical cancer — that shows abnormal glandular cells often is a sign of uterine cancer.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that “all women are at risk for uterine cancer as long as they have a uterus, but the risk increases with age.” This is why most cases of uterine cancer are among older women who had been through or are currently going through menopause.
By 2022, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that there will be about 65,950 new uterine cancer diagnoses and about 12,550 women expected to die of it.
According to the Cancer Treatment Center of America (CTCA), there are two primary types of uterine cancer: endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma.
Endometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer that forms in the lining of the uterus called the endometrium and makes up 90% of uterine cancer diagnoses.
Endometrial cancer has several types based on how cancer cells appear under the microscope. The most common are adenocarcinoma, uterine carcinosarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma, small cell carcinoma, transitional carcinoma, and serous carcinoma.
The lesser-known types of endometrial cancer are clear cell carcinoma, serous adenocarcinoma, mucinous adenocarcinoma, dedifferentiated carcinoma, and undifferentiated carcinoma. But even though they are not very common, these endometrial cancer variants develop and spread faster than most endometrial cancer types. By the time they are diagnosed, it is highly likely that they have already spread outside the uterus and other internal organs.
The different types of endometrial cancer are categorized by grade based on how many cancer cells are present in the uterus and the endometrium. Here is the grading system of endometrial uterine cancer according to the ACS:
- Grade 1 – tumors have 95% or more of the cancer tissue forming glands
- Grade 2 – tumors have between 50% and 94% of the cancer tissue forming glands
- Grade 3 – tumors have less than half of the cancer tissue forming glands
Unlike endometrial cancer, being diagnosed with uterine sarcoma is quite rare, accounting for only less than 4% of most uterine cancer diagnoses. But even though it is not so common, uterine sarcoma should still be a cause of concern for women.
The National Cancer Institute describes uterine sarcoma as “a disease in which malignant cancer cells form in the muscles of the uterus or other tissues that support the uterus.” Uterine sarcoma has three subtypes: uterine leiomyosarcoma, endometrial stromal sarcoma, and undifferentiated sarcoma.
Uterine leiomyosarcoma is the most common type of uterine sarcoma, which develops in the muscular walls of the uterus called myometrium. Uterine leiomyosarcoma diagnoses account for 2% of uterine cancer diagnoses.
Endometrial stromal sarcoma grows in the connective tissues that surround the lining of the uterus. This uterine sarcoma variant has a slow progression and makes up only less than 1% of most uterine cancer diagnoses.
Of all the three uterine sarcoma subtypes, undifferentiated sarcoma is the rarest but most aggressive. This cancer develops more rapidly and spreads more quickly, but like endometrial stromal sarcoma, it only accounts for less than 1% of most uterine cancer diagnoses.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a risk factor is defined as “something that increases the chance of developing a disease.” In the case of uterine cancer, the following risk factors can significantly influence your susceptibility to the disease.
Uterine cancer can be hereditary. According to ASCO, there is a higher risk of uterine cancer among women whose families have a history of colon cancer and Lynch syndrome.
Uterine cancer is prevalent in menopausal and postmenopausal women and is common among females over 50, with 60 being the average age at their diagnosis.
Women who regularly consume foods high in fats have an increased endometrial cancer risk.
Overweight and morbidly obese women are more likely to suffer from uterine cancer because of the additional estrogen produced by the excessive fatty tissues in their bodies. Because estrogen contributes to the increase in body mass index (BMI), the endometrial cancer risk increases. According to ASCO, about 70% of uterine cancer diagnoses are obesity-related.
Diagnosis of other cancer types
Women who have previously been diagnosed with other types of cancer, such as invasive epithelial ovarian cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer, are more likely to be diagnosed with uterine cancer.
Radiation therapy in the pelvic area
Women who have undergone radiation therapy in the pelvic area as part of a treatment of another cancer type are more likely to develop uterine cancer.
Tamoxifen is a known drug used in breast cancer prevention. But while this helps in treating breast cancer, tamoxifen may also increase the likelihood of a uterine cancer diagnosis.
Other Common Cancers Linked to Talcum Powder
Aside from uterine cancer, talcum powder use is also linked to other illnesses such as testicular cancer, lung cancer, talcosis, pneumonia, and asthma. But in the tens of thousands of talcum powder lawsuits that have been filed through the years, two cancer types seem to be the most common and prevalent among the plaintiffs: ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
Ovarian cancer is the most fatal cancer type that can develop in the female reproductive system. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ovarian cancer is a “group of diseases that originates in the ovaries, or in the related areas of the fallopian tubes and the peritoneum.”
In many of the talcum baby powder lawsuits, the female plaintiffs have claimed that they developed ovarian cancer due to talcum powder exposure. Most of the female plaintiffs have been using Johnson & Johnson’s popular talc-based baby powder for years — either for their babies or in their genital areas — and they believe their continued use of J&J’s talcum powder products led them to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
According to consumer advocacy organization Drugwatch, when J&J’s powder is often used in the genital area as part of a frequent feminine hygiene routine, the tiny talc particles can easily “travel through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovaries.”
Once those talc particles have settled in the ovaries, they can stay there for a long time and may take years before they are dissolved. This can cause chronic inflammation of the ovaries and creates a favorable condition for cancerous tumors to develop over time.
Several studies have been conducted to establish the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer through the years. But while they all showed varying degrees of ovarian cancer risk after talcum powder exposure, the studies say one thing: the popular Johnson & Johnson baby powder increases the risk of ovarian cancer.
According to The Mesothelioma Center, mesothelioma is a “malignant tumor that is caused by inhaled asbestos fibers and forms in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart.” For people diagnosed with this deadly illness, life expectancy is about 12 months at most after diagnosis.
The most common symptoms of mesothelioma include shortness of breath, respiratory complications, dry cough, chest or abdominal pain, pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs), fever or night sweats, weakness in the muscles, and fatigue.
The Mesothelioma Center explains how asbestos affects humans and eventually causes the development of mesothelioma. On their website, they show how mesothelioma progresses in the body.
- A person inhales or swallows microscopic airborne asbestos fibers.
- The asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart.
- Embedded fibers damage mesothelial cells and cause inflammation.
- Over time, tumors form on the damaged mesothelium, leading to mesothelioma.
But mesothelioma does not develop overnight. According to Drugwatch, mesothelioma is usually diagnosed 20-50 years after exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc. And because symptoms do not show straight away, it can be difficult to diagnose until it is already too late.
Because mesothelioma is mainly caused by asbestos, it became another common illness linked to the long-term use of J&J baby powder, which was alleged to contain dangerous amounts of asbestos.
Studies conducted to establish the link between mesothelioma and J&J’s baby powder have yielded varying results. Some of them showed that there are traces of asbestos in the talc used by J&J in their baby powder, but other studies found otherwise.
Regardless of the contradicting findings, a significant number of the talc powder lawsuit plaintiff still claimed that their mesothelioma diagnosis is a result of their exposure to J&J’s powder over the years.
What’s Inside the J&J Baby Powder?
The main ingredient in J&J’s baby powder is talc, also known as talcum powder. On their website, J&J describes talc as a “naturally occurring mineral that is highly stable, chemically inert, and odorless.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also explains that talc is “mined from the earth, composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen.”
Aside from baby powders, talcum can also be found in other cosmetic products like face and body powders, antiperspirants, toothpaste, soaps, drug tablets, paint, and even chewing gums.
According to J&J, talcum powder has been tested and proven safe by many studies and research conducted by medical experts across the globe. They also said that science and several clinical evidence have shown talcum powder “is accepted as safe for use in cosmetic and personal care products throughout the world.”
The Dangers of Talcum Powder
While useful in many industries, talcum powder is a massive concern in cosmetics, especially in many powder-based products. Most of the studies that have been conducted over the years showed that there is a significant risk of developing gynecological malignancies as a result of long-term talc use, the most common of which is ovarian cancer.
Here are some of the studies that link the use of cosmetic talcum powder and the development of ovarian cancer.
Cancer Prevention Research Study (2013) – According to a study by this prominent cancer research journal, there is “an increased risk of ovarian cancer between 20 and 30 percent for women who used talcum powder for intimate personal hygiene.”
The Cramer Study (2016) – Led by Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Daniel Cramer, the study found that “women who used talcum powder on their genitals and sanitary pads on a regular basis were at more than three times the risk” of developing ovarian cancer.
The Schildkraut Study (2016) – In this study by Joellen M. Schildkraut that examined African American women, it found that those “who use talcum powder in their groin area have a 44% increased risk for ovarian cancer.”
Tisch Cancer Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital (2017) – In this study, it was reported that although there is a weak link, there is a “statistically significant association between genital use of talc and ovarian cancer.”
Ovarian Cancer Cohort Consortium (2020) – According to their analysis, the OC3 reported that “use of talcum powder on genitals is associated with a 24% increased risk of ovarian cancer.”
The United States Food and Drug Administration previously found traces of asbestos in samples of J&J’s baby powder, prompting the pharmaceutical company to issue a voluntary recall and announce the discontinuation of their baby powder in the US and Canada.
According to the National Cancer Institute, asbestos has been confirmed as a human carcinogen by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer — the World Health Organization’s cancer research arm.
J&J is known to take great pride in the “high purity” of the cosmetic talc they use in their baby powder. However, in its purest form, talcum powder usually contains asbestos.
Moreover, asbestos-like talcum powder — is also a naturally occurring mineral. And because these two minerals are typically found in close proximity to each other in many talc mining sites, it makes talcum powder highly susceptible to asbestos contamination.
Judith Winkel v. Colgate-Palmolive (May 2015) – Winkel claimed that Colgate-Palmolive’s Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder caused her mesothelioma after using the product from 1961 until 1976. The jury awarded her $13 million, but before they could decide on the amount of additional punitive damages, her case had already been settled for an undisclosed amount.
Jacqueline Fox v. Johnson & Johnson (February 2016) – Fox was the first-ever female complainant to achieve a favorable ovarian cancer verdict against J&J. After using J&J’s talcum products religiously for 35 years, Fox was eventually diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died in October 2015. Four months later, a St. Louis jury awarded her $72 million. But in October 2017, this decision was reversed by the Missouri Court of Appeals.
Deborah Giannecchini v. Johnson & Johnson (October 2016) – Giannecchini had been using the Johnson & Johnson talcum powder on her genitals for about 40 years. As a result, she developed ovarian cancer and was diagnosed in 2016 to have an 80% chance of dying in the next two years. Fortunately for Giannecchini, the jury ruled in favor of her and awarded her roughly $70 million and an additional $2 million paid by codefendant Imerys, one of J&J’s major talc suppliers.
Philip Depoian v. Whittaker, Clark & Daniels (October 2016) – Depoian used to frequent the barbershop his father worked at and claimed that his mesothelioma diagnosis was a result of inhaling talc particles and asbestos exposure from talcum powders in his father’s workplace. A Los Angeles jury eventually ruled in favor of him and awarded him $18 million to be paid by talc supplier Whittaker, Clark & Daniels.
Lois Slemp v. Johnson & Johnson (May 2017) – Slemp alleged that her ovarian cancer is caused by J&J’s talcum powder products that she had been using for over 40 years. A St. Louis jury awarded her a total of $110 million in compensatory and punitive damages, but the ruling was reversed in October 2019.
Eva Echeverria v. Johnson & Johnson (August 2017) – Echeverria claimed that her continued talcum powder use for over 40 years caused her to develop ovarian cancer. A California jury ruled in favor of her, and she was awarded $417 million, but she died shortly after, the following month after she won her case. In 2017, the verdict was overturned.
Richard Booker v. Imerys Talc America (December 2017) – Booker sued talc supplier Imerys alongside Dexter Midland Chemical Co., Walter N. Boysen Co., and Vanderbilt Minerals after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of his constant exposure to asbestos-contaminated talc found in the paint he was making when he was still working for Dexter Midland and Boysen. Booker died in 2016, but he was only awarded over $22 million in damages by a California jury about a year after his death.
Stephen Lanzo III v. Johnson & Johnson (April 2018) – Lanzo III sued J&J and its talc supplier Imerys after he developed mesothelioma from constant use of J&J’s baby powder and Shower to Shower for years. A New Jersey jury eventually awarded Lanzo III $117 million in damages, but this verdict was later overturned in April 2021 to rule in favor of J&J.
Missouri class action lawsuit (July 2018) – Twenty-two women were behind this landmark class-action lawsuit, and all of them claimed that J&J’s asbestos-contaminated talcum baby powder had caused them to develop ovarian cancer. In total, a St. Louis jury awarded them a whopping $4.69 billion in damages. J&J appealed the ruling, but the decision was not reversed, and the initial verdict was upheld.
Douglas Barden et al v. Johnson & Johnson (September 2019) – Plaintiffs Douglas Barden, Will Ronning, D’Angela Mcneill-George, and David Etheridge claimed that they got mesothelioma after they ingested asbestos and talc particles from using the Johnson & Johnson talcum powder. A New Jersey jury awarded them $37.2 million in compensatory damages and an additional $750 million in punitive damages.
Christina Prudencio v. Johnson & Johnson (August 2021) – Plaintiff claimed that her long-term J&J talcum powder use led to her mesothelioma diagnosis. She was eventually awarded by a California jury with $26.5 million and an additional $100,000 million in punitive damages.
The talcum powder class action and individual lawsuits are not yet over, but the litigation has come to a temporary halt while J&J subsidiary LTL Management awaits its bankruptcy ruling.
This may be a classic case of “justice delayed is justice denied,” but for the plaintiffs of the remaining 19,000 untried talcum powder cases, they can only remain hopeful. After all, the outcome of their lawsuits is still anyone’s guess at this point.
So far, more than 35,000 talcum powder cases have been filed in federal and state courts across the United States.
As for J&J, they can only hope that the odds will continue to be in their favor in future legal proceedings. The company may have recently had a favorable ruling that allowed LTL Management to proceed with its bankruptcy case, but the talcum powder litigation is not going to end anytime soon.
Either way, both parties surely intend to win at whatever cost. But until when can the legal battle go on? Time can only tell.
J&J has already discontinued the sale of their talc-based baby powder in the United States and Canada, but in many parts of the world, their baby powder remains on most supermarket shelves. To date, J&J has not yet expressed any plans of pulling out their baby powder from more retailers.
While not enough substantial scientific evidence is available at the moment linking talcum powder use to uterine cancer, it is still an illness that needs to be taken seriously. After all, one can never be too careful, especially when it comes to health and safety. So, for now, the best course of action is to educate ourselves about talcum powder and uterine cancer and stay up-to-date with the ongoing talcum powder lawsuits to have an idea of how to deal with such cases should the need to seek legal action ever arise.