The cancer risk associated with talc (talcum powder) is just now gaining widespread attention, though research highlighted the risk decades ago.
As women across the United States begin to learn more about the issue, they likely have more questions than answers.
Talc is a clay mineral that contains magnesium and silica. It is found around the world, including the United States, Australia and various locales in Europe, including France.
Crushed into a powder, talc is used in cosmetics and personal hygiene products.
Talc is often found in proximity to naturally occurring asbestos, a known cancer-causing agent. Since 1976, asbestos-containing talc has been banned from consumer products.
However, talc has been shown to increase cancer risks in women. Ovarian cancer is the most common risk associated with talc, though lung cancer is possible from long-term inhalation of talc particles.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, talc is present in various cosmetics — blush, eyeshadow, foundation and face powder — and body powders.
Among the cosmetics brand names containing talc are Maybelline, Revlon, Almay, Clinique, and Coty.
Body powders containing talc include such brand names as Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, Rite Aid Baby Powder, CVS Baby Powder, Family Dollar Mild Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Morning Fresh Absorbent Body Powder.
The risks generally stem from two circumstances — inhalation and use of talc-based products on female genital areas. The main inhalation risk stems from baby powder and/or cosmetics use. The risk associated with products used on female genital areas involves the talc particles making their way through the reproductive system to the ovaries.
Women who dust their genitals, underwear and sanitary napkins with talcum powder are especially at risk.
Talc has also been used with birth control devices, such as diaphragms and condoms.
Federal statistics show that more than 21,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. Nearly 15,000 will die from the disease. Nearly 200,000 women have ovarian cancer in the United States. Less than half survive five years. Ovarian cancer is the fifth most deadly cancer for women.
Ovarian cancer is more likely in women who are:
• Over the age of 40. Most victims are post-menopausal. Federal statistics show that half of all ovarian cancer diagnoses involve women age 63 or older.
• Obese. Studies have shown that women with a body mass index of 30 are more likely to develop the disease.
• In a family with a history of ovarian, breast or colorectal cancers.
Other risk factors include women who:
• Have never had a full-term pregnancy or had a full-term pregnancy after age 35.
• Have never used oral contraceptives for a period of more than three months.
• Have used hormone therapy for 5 years or longer.
Studies have shown that long-term exposure to talc in feminine hygiene products can increase the risk of contracting ovarian cancer by 30 percent.
Biopsies of cancerous tissue easily identify whether talc is present.
More than 1,000 lawsuits have been filed in courts across the United States naming talc producers, companies whose products include talc as defendants and companies that sell talc-containing products as defendants.
Johnson & Johnson is a defendant in many of these cases, as sales of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder total nearly $400 million annually, according to business reports.