Thousands of women who regularly used Johnson’s Baby Powder in their feminine health regimens have been handed an ovarian cancer diagnosis. Talcum research results illustrate the illness may be caused by long-term exposure to the main ingredient in the Johnson & Johnson baby powder.

Talcum powder is a fine white substance commonly used in surgical supplies, hygiene products and cosmetics. The Food and Drug Administration Office of Women’s Health (OWH) is now investigating the link between talcum powder, ovarian cancer and other health issues.

Talcum Research

Scientists first discovered talcum particles embedded in ovarian tumors around the 1970s. More than 20 epidemiological studies have since tested the association between long-term talcum exposure and cancer, with about half citing evidence of an increased risk.

The Office of Women’s Health (OWH) is the agency’s internal arm, focused on better understanding female wellness through a combination of research, development and outreach. Created in 1994, OWH influences the FDA’s regulatory decisions to inform women about potential health risks.

The office investigates cancers, cardiovascular disease, chronic illness and other reproductive health threats across a woman’s lifespan. OWH breaks down their focus into eight categories, including: 

  • Breast Cancer/Mammography
  • Cancer
  • Device Safety
  • Sex Differences
  • Bioinformatics/Data Mining
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Pregnancy/Reproductive Health
  • Women in Clinical Trials

OWH grants funds to support one-to two-year studies in the focus areas. The agency’s talcum study, spearheaded by FDA Director of Cosmetics Nakissa Sadrieh, is called “Non-clinical mechanistic studies in addressing ovarian cancer risk from talc use in cosmetics.”

Existing research suggests talcum particles powdered on the genitals can migrate and become embedded in the ovaries, causing toxic inflammation over time. Though some studies have found a 20 to 30 percent higher risk, others have been inconclusive.

“Although some epidemiologic and animal studies have examined the relation between talc and ovarian cancer, talc’s effects on female genital system tissues have not been adequately investigated,” Sadrieh wrote on the FDA website.

Sadrieh’s research aims to better understand long-term risks related to talcum exposure, which she believes is of “particular interest to women’s health.” A major goal of Sadrieh’s work is to “fill some of the existing data gaps, in the molecular and genetic events associated with early ovarian oncogenesis, as these are largely unknown.”  

She added that the results could “prove to be useful as possible experimental models for further mechanistic studies in ovarian carcinogenesis.”

Talcum Regulation

More than 3,000 women have filed lawsuits after allegedly using talcum powder and developing ovarian cancer. Courts found the pharmaceutical company guilty of negligence, requiring million-dollar settlement payouts for injured women. Regardless of the conviction, Johnson & Johnson maintains their talcum powder product is not carcinogenic.

The mission of the OWH is to “protect and advance the health of women through policy, science, and outreach.” Researchers have suspected that talcum may cause cancer since the ‘70s. New FDA research will hopefully uncover conclusive talc-cancer evidence, spark regulatory restrictions on talcum powder, and assert that women’s health is a top priority.