Rumor Debunked

Can you imagine our nation’s response to an attack on American soil killing nearly 600,000 people and injuring an additional 1,000,000?  There would be no end to the public outcry. Congress would rush to activate an army of responders (military and medical) with a limitless budget. We spent over a trillion dollars fighting terror in the Middle East. Imagine what we would spend after such a devastating attack right on our own homeland.

Without the public outcry or congressional funding, this scenario plays itself out each year in the form of cancer. The American Cancer Society is projecting over 1,600,000 new U.S. cases of cancer in 2016 with nearly 600,000 fatalities. The cause and cure of cancer still remains largely a mystery. And now, if you haven’t heard; some people are saying that baby powder of all things, is causing cancer.

About Cancer

Among medical researchers, it’s generally accepted that while a direct cause of cancer is difficult to define, certain triggers increase the risk of getting cancer. Lifestyle factors such as tobacco use, poor diet, and the lack of physical activity trigger cancer. Certain types of infections, exposure to certain chemicals found in the environment and radiation are also linked to cancer.

Baby Powder Rumor

Since the 1960s, there’s been a rumor that baby powder is associated with ovarian cancer. Most baby powder products contain significant amounts of talcum powder. Talcum powder is the ingredient that gave rise to the rumor. 

The proportion of  U.S. women regularly using talc based baby powder was estimated in 2001 to be approximately 40%. Many cosmetic products also contain talc. If the rumor were true, this would pose a serious health risk to a large percentage of Americans.

What is Talc?

Talc is a metamorphic mineral composed mostly of magnesium silicate. When ground into a powder it absorbs moisture. It’s a product that’s been used for thousands of years in cosmetics and medicines to soothe skin rashes. It’s most common use today may be in baby powders. How could something called baby powder which smells so good, possibly hurt anyone?

The Research

Research to confirm or dispel the rumor has been conducted by institutions from coast to coast. Harvard Medical School, Stanford Prevention Research Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Ohio State University, the Universities of Florida, Iowa, Arizona, and Buffalo, the National Cancer Institute, and the Wake Forest School of Medicine are just examples of the dozens of laudable organizations that have, or still are investigating the possibility of a baby powder – cancer link.

Rumor Debunked

Baby powder and talcum powder manufacturers would likely prefer the rumor to just go away. Their wishes are coming true. The rumor is dying very quickly. But be careful what you wish for. The rumor is now becoming fact. What medical researchers suspected for decades is being supported by nearly incontrovertible evidence.

Study after study is demonstrating a causal link between talc based baby powder and cancer. A study by a Harvard doctor estimates that talc in hygiene products may be a contributing factor in the development of ovarian cancer in as many as 10,000 women each year. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed studies examining baby powder use and ovarian cancer and classified talc as a possible carcinogen. The Women’s Health Institute found that the use of talc based powders increased the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer by 24%. The Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) found there was a 40% increase in risk for serous invasive ovarian cancer in woman who regularly used talc based powders.  In June 2013, a study was published in the medical journal Cancer Prevention Research, which found that genital powder use is associated with an increased risk of epithelial ovarian cancer.


The greatest risk is found in women who’ve used talc based powders in their genital area. Talc particulates (dust) have been shown to migrate to the ovaries. Once there, the talc dust disrupts the surface ovarian epithelial tissue leading to entrapment of the talc particles within inclusion cysts many times causing inflammation and cell mutation, leading to cancer. Evidence of talc has also been found in ovarian  cancer tumors. 

Nicolas Wentzensen, MD, PhD, MS of the National Cancer Institute said “With over 14,000 deaths in the United States each year, ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecologic cancer. Most ovarian cancers are detected at late stage and have poor prognosis.”

As discussed earlier in this article, talc is a naturally occurring mineral. What many people don’t realize is that in nature, talc is often found comingled with asbestos. For years asbestos has been a known carcinogen.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists all  suspected cancer causing substances in order of their suspected or known danger. The list is divided into groups from “A” to “E”. For example Group “E” is “Not likely to be carcinogenic to humans”.  Group “C” is “Suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential”. The EPA has listed talcum powder in its most dangerous group “A”, “Carcinogenic to humans”.

The Long Arm of the Law

Armed with this information, one would think the manufacturers of talc based powders would have warned women of the risk when applying these powders in the genital region. But they didn’t. In fact, the manufacturers have known about the suspected link as long ago as thirty-years and neglected to ever warn women. Studies’ dating back to the 1970’s showed particles of talc in the ovarian tissue of cancer patients.

 In February of 2016, a jury awarded $72 million to a                  woman who used Johnson & Johnson baby powder for         thirty-five years and died of ovarian cancer. The jury found the company guilty of negligence in never warning her of the dangers. The company now faces over 1,000 similar lawsuits.

If you or someone you know has used talc based powders and has either contracted or died from ovarian cancer, seek legal counsel. You don’t have to go through this alone.