What Is Talcum Powder?
Talcum powder comes from an extremely soft mineral called talc, which is composed of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. It is commonly used in baby powders, adult body and facial powders, foot powders, deodorant powders and sanitary and incontinence pads. In powder form, talcum is a good absorber of moisture and it also reduces friction, which is why many people use it for keeping skin dry and helping to prevent rashes. It reduces chafing from sweat, urine and other bodily secretions, and many use it to increase comfort during hot weather. More specifically, women have used talcum powder for generations to avoid chafing between the thighs when wearing skirts and parents have used it as a way to combat and comfort diaper rash. It is also used on bedridden patients to prevent the development of rashes and bed sores. Two of the most well-known talcum powder name brands are Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower.
Asbestos, which can cause cancer in and around the lungs when inhaled, can be found in natural talcum powder. Since the 1970s, however, all talcum powder products used in homes in the United States have been required to be asbestos-free.
British clinical studies have found that infants can be at risk for poisoning from the long-term inhalation of baby powder. This can manifest through minor symptoms such as coughing and eye irritation, or more serious symptoms like respiratory failure. This risk has caused the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as many pediatricians, to discourage the use of powders that contain talc.
Another possible side effect related to talcum powder is talcosis, which is acute or chronic lung irritation that is caused when particles of talc become airborne and are inhaled. Symptoms associated with talcosis include wheezing, rapid and shallow breathing and coughing.
The most serious potential side effect associated with talcum powder is ovarian cancer.
Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer
As far back as the 1970s, evidence began to emerge that there was a link between application of powder to female genitalia and serious health effects, including ovarian cancer. According to the Cancer Prevention Project, women who use feminine hygiene products that contain talcum powder have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer because the talc has the ability to travel through their reproductive system and attach to the lining of the ovaries. Once this happens, it can take years for the powder to dissolve, and inflammation can occur.
Many medical studies have verified a connection between talcum powder and the increased risk of ovarian cancer. A recent 2013 study that was published in Cancer Prevention Research stated that women who dusted their groin area with talcum powder had a twenty to thirty percent greater risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who did not engage in the same practice.
Despite the growing number of claims and scientific studies relating talcum powder to ovarian cancer, product manufacturers are still not offering warnings to consumers of the potential risks. It is important to note that because most talcum powder based products are classified as cosmetics, they are not required to be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they are marketed to consumers. While companies are obligated under the law to ensure that their products are safe, they are not obligated to share safety information with the FDA. As of now, the FDA has not required Johnson & Johnson to issue any recalls on their talcum powder products.
What Is Ovarian Cancer?
Cancer is caused by a genetic mutation that turns normal and healthy cells into abnormal cancerous cells. Ovarian cancer is cancer that is found in one or both ovaries. Women have on ovary on each side of their uterus, and their purpose is to produce eggs, estrogen and progesterone.
There are three types of ovarian cancer: epithelial tumors, stromal tumors and germ cell tumors. The vast majority of ovarian cancer cases are characterized by epithelial tumors, which cover the outside of the ovaries. Stromal tumors are found in the hormone producing cells of the ovary, and germ cell tumors are found in the egg-producing cells of the ovary. While ovarian cancer only represents 3% of the cancers found in women, it causes more deaths than any other cancer associated with the female reproductive system.
Stages of ovarian cancer begin at Stage 1, where the cancer is confined to one or both ovaries, and progress to Stage 4, where the cancer is in one or both ovaries, and there is also evidence of it in the liver and lungs.
There are several factors that are associated with the development of ovarian cancer. A woman has a higher chance of developing it if a close family member has had cancer of the colon, breasts or ovaries. Age is also a considerable factor with regard to ovarian cancer. There is a greater likelihood of it developing after a woman has gone through menopause, and the risk increases for women who have taken estrogen without progesterone for five to ten years. Women classified as obese not only have a greater risk of developing ovarian cancer, they also have a higher death rate from the disease when compared to non-obese women.
Ovarian cancer usually does not cause symptoms in its early stages, and if there are symptoms, they can be mistaken for other less serious conditions like constipation or irritable bowel syndrome. If there are symptoms, they can include abdominal bloating or swelling, quickly feeling full while eating, weight loss, discomfort in pelvic area or frequent need to urinate. Women with ovarian cancer also report experiencing fatigue, pain with intercourse, back pain and menstrual irregularities. Doctors do recommend seeing a gynecologist if you have these symptoms twelve or more times during the course of a month, and if they are new or unusual to you.
Because of the absence of noticeable symptoms, in many cases, ovarian cancer is not discovered until it has expanded to the pelvis and abdomen. This delayed diagnosis makes it more challenging to effectively treat, and it oftentimes results in death. If ovarian cancer is found while still contained in the ovaries, the chances for successful treatment increase. In terms of screening for the disease, although nothing has been found to be completely reliable, there are two methods traditionally used. A blood test which looks for elevated levels of a protein called CA-125 can be administered, and an ultrasound of the ovaries can also be conducted.
There are currently no known ways to prevent ovarian cancer, but clinical studies have found that oral contraceptives can reduce the risk by as much as 50% if they are taken for at least five years. Research has also shown that pregnancy and breastfeeding can also reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Tubal ligation and hysterectomy are associated with reduced risk as well, and the most effective way to reduce risk is by having a prophylactic oophorectomy, which is removal of the ovaries.
What Should You Do After an Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis?
If you or a family member has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, feelings of fear, anxiety and depression are to be expected. It is always a good idea to seek a second opinion from another doctor. If your initial diagnosis was made by a primary care physician, seeking the consultation of a specialist, such as a gynecological oncologist, is advisable. You can ask for a referral from your primary care physician, inquire with your local hospital or cancer treatment center or conduct research online.
If a second opinion confirms that you do have ovarian cancer, it is important to make an informed decision based on the options provided to you by your doctor. For some women, surgery is the best course of action, and it entails removing both ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the uterus and nearby lymph nodes and a portion of abdominal tissue where the cancer often spreads. How extensive the surgery is depends on which stage the cancer is in. Also, studies have shown that survival rates are much higher if the surgery is performed by a gynecological oncologist.
Chemotherapy, a process that kills remaining cancer cells, is commonly used following surgery. For women who are diagnosed with an advanced stage of ovarian cancer, chemotherapy may be the first course of treatment.
A strong support system is extremely important while dealing with an ovarian cancer diagnosis. Having a trusted loved one accompany you to appointments can not only provide needed emotional support, but also assist you with processing and understanding a great deal of complicated information. Many hospitals and cancer treatment centers offer cancer support groups and counseling services to help women cope with the emotional consequences of an ovarian cancer diagnosis. There are also many valuable resources available through the American Cancer Society and the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, such as coping checklists for patients and caregivers.
In addition to these things, you can also ask your doctor to enroll you in a clinical trial, which are available for women before, during and after treatment. These trials are vital to the discovery of new therapy, and they may give patients the opportunity to receive the newest and most innovative treatment.
Talcum Powder Lawsuits Against Johnson and Johnson
In recent years, numerous lawsuits have been filed against the brand that is perhaps the most commonly associated with talcum powder, Johnson & Johnson. These suits allege that the company was aware of the potential risk of ovarian cancer associated with the use of their product, but did nothing to warn consumers. In filing these lawsuits, people are seeking financial compensation that can assist with paying for treatment, and also compensation for the associated pain and suffering caused by a cancer diagnosis.
A South Dakota woman named Deane Berg, who used Johnson’s Baby Powder for thirty years and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006, won her lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, claiming that they were negligent for not warning her of her increased risk of developing ovarian cancer during the time she used the product. Talc was actually found in the cancerous tissue removed from her body, and doctors verified that the talc particles caused her cancer. Her claim was substantiated by a medical expert from Harvard University named Dr. Daniel Cramer, who testified that talcum powder was likely a contributing factor in 10,000 cases of ovarian cancer annually.
Since the success of Berg vs. Johnson & Johnson, class action lawsuits have been filed in California and Illinois. A woman named Mona Estrada from Stockton, California filed a class action lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson in 2014, claiming that their baby powder was not safe. In her filing, she cited a statistic that women who used their talcum powder based product on their genital area have a 33 percent increased risk of developing ovarian cancer than women who did not use the product. She also claimed that the company was aware of the potential risks but hid them from consumers. Although Ms. Estrada had not been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she had used Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder since 1950, and filed the lawsuit on behalf of herself and other women who had been potentially effected.
Shortly after the Estrada case was filed, an Illinois resident named Barbara Mihalich filed another class action lawsuit against the company. Her claim stated that Johnson & Johnson violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act an profited unfairly from their talcum powder products.
In addition to these cases, the Mississippi Attorney General’s office has opened up an investigation into Johnson & Johnson’s marketing practices, with specific attention to how they have been promoting talcum powder products in light of associated health risks.
As the public becomes more aware of the connection between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, lawyers throughout the country are reviewing potential cases, and lawsuit filings are expected to increase.