Women warned talcum powder increases cancer risk

Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay nearly 5 billion dollars to a group of 22 women who allege the company's talcum powders caused their ovarian cancer. Picture: JeepersMedia/Flickr
Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay nearly 5 billion dollars to a group of 22 women who allege the company's talcum powders caused their ovarian cancer. Picture: JeepersMedia/Flickr
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Women should avoid using talcum powder on their genitals due to it posing an increased risk of ovarian cancer, a UK charity has warned after a pharmaceutical giant faced legal action in the United States.

Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $4.7 billion (£3.6bn) to a group of 22 women who allege the company’s talcum powders caused their ovarian cancer.

Charity Target Ovarian Cancer said it was important to note that the increased risk was “very small”.

Rebecca Rennison, its director of public affairs and services, said: “Various studies have shown a link between using talcum powder between the legs and ovarian cancer.

“We would therefore generally advise against using talcum powder on this area of the body. However, it is important to note that the increased risk is very small.

“For someone without a family history of ovarian cancer, the lifetime risk of developing the disease is 2 per cent – or, put another way, four women out of 200. For those that used talcum powder, it could be five in 200.”

Ovacome, which provides advice and support to women with ovarian cancer, said the link remained unproven as there were “uncertainties” around the results of studies. The charity said further research was needed.

Around 7,300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK each year, with 53 per cent of cases diagnosed in women aged 65 and over.

The affected women claim that Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products have been laced with cancer-causing asbestos “for decades”.

The US women’s lead lawyer, Mark Lanier, said: “For over 40 years, Johnson & Johnson has covered up the evidence of asbestos in their products.

“We hope this verdict will get the attention of the J&J board and that it will lead them to better inform the medical community and the public about the connection between asbestos, talc, and ovarian cancer.

“The company should pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease. J&J sells the same powders in a marvellously safe corn starch variety. If J&J insists on continuing to sell talc, they should mark it with a serious warning.”

Johnson & Johnson has denied that its products contain asbestos and said it “remains confident” that they do not cause ovarian cancer.

The company plans to appeal over the verdict.

“Johnson & Johnson is deeply disappointed in the verdict, which was the product of a fundamentally unfair process that allowed plaintiffs to present a group of 22 women, most of whom had no connection to Missouri, in a single case all alleging that they developed ovarian cancer,” it said in a statement.

“The result of the verdict, which awarded the exact same amounts to all plaintiffs irrespective of their individual facts, and differences in applicable law, reflects that the evidence in the case was simply overwhelmed by the prejudice of this type of proceeding.”