Who Knew Talcum Powder Could Cause Cancer?

. By Gordon Gibb

Most Americans would be surprised to learn that talcum powder, a product used by generations to treat a varying array of skin issues and sometimes used as a traditional hygienic product just because your mom used it and your grandmother too, is a potential carcinogen. Such details have recently come out within the context of a Johnson & Johnson lawsuit alleging their body powder had the potential to cause ovarian cancer.

A recent body powder lawsuit that found for the plaintiff unfortunately did not include punitive or compensable damages for Deane Berg, a faithful user for 32 years of Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products, before a diagnosis of ovarian cancer at the age of 49.

Berg’s talcum powder lawsuit - Berg v. Johnson & Johnson et al., Case No. 4:09-cv-04179, in the US District Court for the District of South Dakota - was the first of its kind to allege that asbestos-free talcum powder had the potential to cause ovarian cancer.

Other lawsuits alleging a link between body powder and cancer have since come forward and are bubbling in the legal pipeline. But if the reference to asbestos noted above took you by surprise, you’re forgiven. Not many people beyond avid collectors of pre-1970s talcum powder tins are aware that at one time, talcum powder contained asbestos.

This is a well-known fact amongst collectors. According to the Naples Florida Weekly (1/30/14), vintage talcum powder tins are a favored item. Among them, a 1964 can of Beatles “Margo of Mayfair” talc features a drawing of the Fab Four. The report spells out, however, that some natural talcum powders back in the day contained asbestos, a known carcinogen that has been removed during the manufacturing process since the 1970s.

However anyone using talcum powder pre-1970, or anyone who may have pressed a vintage talcum powder tin into service, may have been or become exposed to asbestos.

Talcum powder doesn’t have to contain asbestos to be dangerous: allegation

The collecting of vintage talc tins aside, there has been increasing concern expressed in recent years over the potential for body powder and cancer. An abstract of a meta-analysis conducted by the National Institutes of Health and published in the March/April 2003 issue of Anticancer Research, suggested that women who regularly used talcum powder on their perineum (within the context of weekly applications) carried a 33 percent increased risk for developing invasive epithelial ovarian cancer.

The finding of epidemiological evidence of ovarian cancer from frequent use of pure talcum was also promoted in the International Journal of Cancer (11/4/04, pages 458-464).

According to statistics provided by the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, nearly 14,000 US women lost their lives in 2013 to ovarian cancer. A researched article penned by writer Brenda Craig denotes that a significant percentage of ovarian cancer cases in the US can be linked to talc. This, from Dr. Daniel Cramer, a gynecologist and epidemiologist who also serves as a professor and researcher at Harvard, who maintains as many as “ten percent of all ovarian cancer cases in the US are related to the use of talcum powder.”

A more recent study pegs that percentage far higher, according to Craig’s article. Led by Dr. Margaret Gates of the Harvard Medical School at Boston, the 2009 study found that women who used talcum powder around their genital area carried a 40 percent higher risk for ovarian cancer. Data from the Nurses Health Study and the New England Case-Control Study were used to arrive at the results.

Plaintiffs in body powder and cancer lawsuits allege that manufacturers should have known about the cancer potential, and accuse the manufacturers of failure to warn.

In the meantime, future plaintiffs and their lawyers are looking at the outcome of the Berg trial with optimism, even in spite of the lack of damages that Berg’s lawyers were hoping to persuade the courts to address in a separate trial. Beyond the rule of law that shut plaintiff Berg out of a damages award, the jury found for the plaintiff on the negligence claim in the Johnson & Johnson lawsuit.

In the meantime, if Grandma has one of those old, collectable talc tins lying around and there’s talcum powder inside, best to keep your distance. There could be asbestos lurking about…


If you or a loved one have suffered losses in this case, please click the link below and your complaint will be sent to a defective products lawyer who may evaluate your TALCUM POWDER CANCER claim at no cost or obligation.