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Can Baby Powder Really Cause Ovarian Cancer?

Can Baby Powder Really Cause Ovarian Cancer?
From TIME - August 22, 2017

A jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in damages to a 63-year-old woman in Los Angeles who developed ovarian cancer after using the companys talc-based baby powder for decades.

Like many women who use baby powder to freshen up or reduce chafing between their thighs, on their genitals, or in their underwear, Eva Echeverria was unaware for many years of the potential link between ovarian cancer and talc, an ingredient in some types of baby powder.

This is not the first time the company has been involved in a lawsuit over its popular powderand it will likely face hundreds more cases in the future, according to Reuters. In May, a Missouri jury awarded $110 million to a Virginia woman who alleged that her cancer was caused by baby powder, and last October, a Missouri woman was awarded more than $70 million.

Earlier in 2016, Johnson & Johnson was also ordered to pay $72 million to the family of a woman who died in 2015, and $55 million to a South Dakota woman who survived. Two similar suits in New Jersey and one in Saint Louis have been dismissed after a judge deemed there was insufficient evidence linking talc to ovarian cancer.

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that the company will appeal this latest verdict, and cites a National Cancer Institute report from April that found the weight of evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer. (However, the New York Times reports, the report takes a different tone in another section, noting that it is not clear whether talc is a risk factor for cancer.)

All of this may leave you wondering, can using baby powder cause ovarian cancer? The answer to this question is murky. Heres everything we know so far.

RELATED: Knowing These Ovarian Cancer Facts Could Save Your Life

What is talc?

Talc is a naturally occurring mineral found in baby powders as well as other cosmetic and personal care products, and it's good at absorbing moisture, cutting down on friction, and preventing rashes. For many years, parents used it to diaper babies, until doctors began discouraging it for health reasons. As for adults, many still use it around their genitals or rectum to prevent chafing or sweating, says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive services at Yale School of Medicine.

As the American Cancer Society points out on its website, talc in its natural form may contain asbestos, a known carcinogen.

The FDA does not allow talc-based products to contain any asbestos. But the trouble is, cosmetics dont have to be reviewed or approved by the FDA before they land on store shelves, so theres no guarantee that they havent been contaminated.

In light of this concern, the FDA visited several retail outlets in the Washington, D.C. metro area and bought and tested a variety of cosmetic products containing talc across a wide range of prices for a study that ran from 2009 to 2010. They found no traces of asbestos in any of the products.

But of course, that doesnt prove that all talc-based products are asbestos-free.

RELATED: 10 Products You Think Are Healthy, But Are not

Can asbestos-free talc cause ovarian cancer?

What you should know

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