A recent study regarding the mineral talc and ovarian cancer found no statistically significant association between women using talcum powder in their genital area and incident ovarian cancer. The study was published in JAMA on January 7, 2020, and is reportedly the largest study on this topic to date. Katie M. O’Brien, Ph.D., Shelley S. Tworoger, Ph.D., Holly R. Harris, Sc.D., Association of Powder Use in the Genital Area With Risk of Ovarian Cancer, JAMA. (2020); 323(1).
Researchers in this new study sampled 252,745 total women (38% self-reported some level of exposure/use to talcum powder) from four cohorts from prior studies of women in the United States. Researchers evaluated the data sets concerning woman who uses talc products (this included analyzing data subsets to account for different frequencies of use among the women) and compared that data to women who did not use talc products in order to identify differences in the incidents of ovarian cancer. According to the researchers, the data sets did not provide any differences that would allow researchers to opine that talc products increase women’s risk of developing ovarian cancer. Notwithstanding, the researchers conducting the new study also indicated with their findings that their study may have been too small to identify a small increase in carcinogenic risk. Put into context, the researchers are saying a larger study may be necessary to further study whether there is any increased risk based on their similar (but not the same) data results. It appears that data from this study does not support the conclusion that talc increases a women’s risk of developing ovarian cancer given the researchers only opine that the results are statistically insignificant. This study should help reframe for the public what (if any) risk of developing ovarian cancer from using talc.
In 2010, the World Health Organization released its Talc Monograph that categorized perineal use of talc-based products as 2B (“possibly” carcinogenic to humans). Plaintiff law firms quickly incorporated this “possibility” it into their arguments to juries and capitalized in it. We have seen multimillion and even multibillion-dollar verdicts against talc defendants in jurisdictions across the country. However, the Talc Monograph notes “limited evidence” of an increased risk of ovarian cancer and perineal use of talc products. Plaintiff firms will likely use this new study to show juries that there are more incidents of ovarian cancer among women who use talc products than women who do not. They will conveniently leave out that the researchers found these quantitative differences are statistically insignificant. In fact, the researchers even suggest that an even larger study than theirs may provide data that will allow for conclusions regarding small increased risks. The media attention from these verdicts has stoked people’s fears and skewed the perception of the link between talc and ovarian cancer. Accordingly, defense counsels must develop offensive and defensive trial strategies for framing the scientific debate for a jury.
The attorneys at CMBG3 Law LLC have represented clients in talc, products liability, and toxic tort matters for many years. We provide the most current advice by staying informed of legal, scientific and medical developments regarding a wide variety of substances and products, including talc-containing products, used by consumers every day. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Clifford V. Pascarella II (email him or call 617-279-8234).
 The World Health Organization’s Monograph also categorized inhaled talc exposure as 3 (“not classifiable” as carcinogenic due to “little or inconsistent evidence” of any increased risk of cancer.)