Does Talcum Powder Cause Cancer?

Last Thursday 22 women in Missouri won a joint lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, earning $4.7 billion dollars and supporting their claim that the company’s talcum powder causes ovarian cancer. Oncology experts often disagree on whether talc causes cancer, however this has not stopped the lawsuits.

Naturally occurring talc contains asbestos, a substance that is commonly accepted as being a carcinogen if inhaled. The talc in modern powder products does not contain asbestos, however there is little research about asbestos-free talc’s effect on the body. The FDA has not found asbestos in any talc products it has evaluated in recent years and the American Cancer Society states that all talc products have been free of asbestos since the 1970s. Despite this lack of a known carcinogen, the World Health Organization says use of talc powder on one’s genitals may cause cancer.

As per the American Cancer Society’s webpage dedicated to talc, some evidence from animal studies has shown mixed results, with some displaying tumors and some not. Human studies have shown some evidence that talc may be linked to ovarian cancer if the powder encounters and travels through the vagina. The Society claims that “if there is an increased risk, the overall increase is likely to very be small,” for ovarian cancer. Some studies in talc miners have yielded results linking talc to lung cancer, being that the natural form contains asbestos that could be inhaled when digging. Results in studies of this phenomenon vary as well, with some showing no evidence of an increase in lung cancer risk for talc miners. Cosmetic talc powder has not shown any evidence of causing lung cancer.

The same uncertainty is present with glyphosate, the main ingredient in the lawncare product Roundup that has been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The World Health Organization lists it as a possible cancer-causing agent in humans in 2015, however the European Food Safety Authority and Environmental Protection Agency believe the product is safe for human use.

Many judges are not supportive of these evidence-lacking lawsuits, with a federal judge in California dropping the requirement that Roundup products containing glyphosate are labeled as cancer-causing because of inadequate evidence supporting of the substance being a carcinogen. Similarly, a San Francisco judge felt the evidence was scarce, stating that the it would present a “daunting challenge” convincing him to believe the weak evidence.

Sources: NBC, American Cancer Society