Ovarian Cancer and The Case Against Talc

A recent lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson claimed that the company’s talcum powder was responsible for cases of ovarian cancer. According to a July 13th report by NBC, a judge in Missouri ruled in favor of 22 women in a joint lawsuit. The judge awarded the women $4.6 billion. Experts in the cancer field, however, still disagree on whether or not talc is responsible for human forms of cancer. While the lawsuits are far from stopping, scientists simply have not reached an agreement on the topic. Keep reading to learn more, or follow the original story here for more information.

What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer occurs in several forms, but the unifying quality is its occurrence within a woman’s ovaries. Ovarian cancers are classified in four types: epithelial tumors, germ cell carcinoma tumors, stromal carcinoma tumors, and small cell carcinoma of the ovary based largely on the location in which tumors begin. Ovarian cancer is also classified by stages, ranging from one to four, which describe the spread of the cancer from the ovaries, pelvis, abdomen, and the rest of the body respectively.

Though it is unclear what causes ovarian cancer, the BRCA gene is known to play a major role in some cases, as mutations of this gene can dramatically increase a woman’s risk. Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, pelvic pain, abdominal swelling, loss of appetite, and a change in the urgency or frequency of urination.

Click here to learn more about ovarian cancer.


Like ovarian cancer, the root causes of many cancers are difficult to pin down. Some causes are a sure thing, while others are challenging to comprehend. Many of the factors affecting cancer are what researchers refer to as “modifiable risks.” Smoking cigarettes, obesity, drinking alcohol, exposure to UV radiation, and HPV all fall under this category.

These agents comprise known risk factors because researchers are able to track how people exposed to these risks develop cancer at higher rates than others, and because they are able to find specific types of damage done to the body.

Around the House

Identifying cancer causes is a tricky business then. Even more difficult is identifying whether or not common household substances may be one of those causes. In the cases of products like those provided by Johnson & Johnson, the American Cancer Society even maintains an entire web page to discuss and investigate the question.

Part of the concern surrounding talc involve the natural state of the mineral. When found in nature, some talc contains asbestos, a known carcinogen. Thus, it becomes important to distinguish between talc with and without asbestos when discussing cancer risks. Talc containing asbestos is acknowledged as a cancer risk if inhaled. This form of talc, however, has not been in use since the 1970s, according to the American Cancer Society. Asbestos-free talc remains some what of a mystery as it relates to cancer.

What’s the Verdict?

Research thus far appears mixed regarding talc products. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (a cancer research group connected to the World Health Organization) reports that genital use of talc products is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society describes that for any individual woman, the increased risk of cancer as a result of talc products (if there even is one) is at most “very small.” While the lawsuits continue at ever-quickening speed, research takes time. The questions have yet to be fully investigated, nor are the results we have fully conclusive.

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