Last month a jury in the US awarded $70 million to a woman who claimed that Johnson & Johnson's baby talcum powder was responsible for her ovarian case. This is not the first such verdict of its kind but I'll get to that later.
So, talcum powder. People all over the world use it because it absorbs moisture so well, and when you're living in one of the hottest and most humid cities in the world (Mumbai), I can completely understand why. But if a certain body of research is to be believed, talcum powder may just be a carcinogen, especially for women, who may be putting themselves in danger of cervical, endometrial, and ovarian cancer through prolonged perineal use.
In 2007, a study published in the 'International Journal of Cancer' supported the link between ovarian cancer and talc use by women around the genital area.
Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral comprised mainly of magnesium, oxygen and silicon. It has great moisture-absorbing qualities, and hence its use to absorb sweat in the genital area. However, a study conducted as early as 1982, which compared 215 women with ovarian cancer with 215 healthy women, found that talcum powder users were nearly twice as likely to have ovarian cancer. Also, in 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified talcum powder as a possible human carcinogen if used in the female genital area. In 2007, a study published in the International Journal of Cancer also supported the link between ovarian cancer and talc use by women around the genital area.
While this body of research does appear to show a link between talc use and cancer, there are also several studies which have concluded that there is no positive link between the two. For example, a 2008 article concluded that talc does not possess carcinogenic properties, and a 2012 study concluded that there was no positive association between perineal talc use and cancer.
Since many people continue to apply talcum powder on babies, I really think we need a definitive answer sooner rather than later.
Furthermore, just before the latest verdict I wrote about at the beginning of this article, Johnson and Johnson successfully appealed two older lawsuits in which it had been held that their talcum powder had caused ovarian cancer in two women. The judge, while dismissing the lawsuits, held that the plaintiffs failed to provide reliable evidence that the substance caused the disease.
So, does prolonged use of talcum powder actually cause cancer or not? It appears that the jury is still out on that one. A lot more research needs to be done before we can be certain one way or the other. However, since many people continue to apply talcum powder on babies, I really think we need a definitive answer sooner rather than later.