A new laboratory study is pointing to possible link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder, yet another challenge to previous assumptions that the talc contained in Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and other popular brands is inert and harmless.
For generations, women have incorporated Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and other talc-based powders into their daily feminine hygiene routine. Thousands of these women, or their surviving loved ones, are now pursuing talcum powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson after developing ovarian cancer that allegedly resulted from their use of Baby Powder or Shower-to-Shower.
The most recent talc ovarian cancer trial concluded last summer, when a Missouri jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7 billion to 22 plaintiffs. Other juries have returned mixed verdicts, while scientists studying the carcinogenic effects of genital talc use have yet to render a final judgment.
In 2016, for example, the authors of the African American Cancer Epidemiology Study compared 584 African-American women with ovarian cancer to 745 healthy women and found that those who reported using talcum powder for feminine hygiene were 44% more likely to have the disease. That same year, another case-controlled study involving more than 2,000 ovarian cancer patients in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as well as a control group of consisting of 1,578 cancer-free women, reported similar findings.
In 2017, however, a meta-analysis of 24 case-control studies and 3 cohort studies concluded that the current scientific evidence regarding talc and ovarian cancer isn’t consistent.
This latest study, which demonstrated that talc can trigger an inflammatory reaction in ovarian cancer cells, at least in a lab, was presented by researchers from Wayne State University during the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, in Honolulu, Hawaii. According to Cancer Therapy Advisor, the team identified the specific mechanism of action by pinpointing how talcum powder caused mutations in the CAT, NOS, and GPX1 genes.
“I went to the lab, took the powder and added it to ovarian cancer cell lines,” said lead author Ghassan Saed, PhD, of the Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit, Michigan. “We found that it created an increased oxidative state.”
Even more intriguing, they observed a similar reaction in healthy fallopian cells, a finding that seems to confirm the growing scientific consensus that ovarian cancer actually originates in the fallopian tubes.
“This is the first in vitro study that shows a direct biological effect on what’s thought to be an inert substance on ovarian cancer cells and most importantly, normal cells coming from the fallopian tubes,” Dr. Saed continued.
It’s important to note, however, that this was only a laboratory study. At this point, it’s not clear if the cells in a woman’s body would react the same way if exposed to talcum powder. According to Cancer Therapy Advisory, Dr. Saed’s next project will involve injecting talc directly into rats’ reproductive systems.
“Hopefully these next studies will confirm our findings and provide important information to share with the public to tell them to stop using talcum powder,” he said.