Want to feel “ soft, fresh, and comfortable?” Johnson and Johnson would say to use a bit of baby powder. But today, many people would say, “Not so fast.” You see , although women have used baby powder for years, some now believe that it has contributed to ovarian cancer. Just as many, however, would argue that there is no correlation between the two. As we learned in SC200, correlation does not always equal causation. So what is a woman to believe? As it turns out, it may not be an easy answer.
Women have recently begun suing Johnson and Johnson claiming that their baby powder caused them to get ovarian cancer. Juries in several cities and states have actually awarded plaintiffs hundreds of millions of dollars. But scientists around the world are not in agreement as to whether the studies have sufficiently proven that talcum powder can cause ovarian cancer. Dr. Shelley Tworoger, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Harvard , has indicated that it is very hard to study cancer causes, because cancer develops over a long period of time and is actually influenced by many factors, some internal, and some external. Obviously we can never deliberately expose women to talcum powder and then wait to see if they develop cancer. Instead, most studies question women who have already been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and try to determine if they all have some factor , like powder usage, in common. In fact, a Harvard professor, Dr. Daniel Cramer, did just that. He studied and compared 215 women with ovarian cancer against 215 healthy women. He did in fact find that women who used talcum powder in their genital area were three times as likely to get ovarian cancer. He has been used as a paid expert by many of the plaintiffs involved in the law suits. Several studies confirmed those findings, while several studies found no such results. Critics , however, find that the results are often skewed, because women with cancer commonly look for an explanation for that cancer. Dr. Larry Copeland, an oncologist from Ohio State University’s Medical Center, and admittedly a paid expert for Johnson and Johnson, claims that when women with cancer are asked if they ever used talc, they tend to believe that it must be the cause of their cancer. Dr. Sarah Temkin, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, agrees . She doesn’t believe that the evidence is strong enough to force the manufacturers of talcum powder to place a warning on their labels. She believes that the link between talcum powder usage and cancer is nonexistent or extremely small and finds that it would be more beneficial for women to focus on more well established risk factors such as family history of ovarian or breast cancer.
You may be wondering what the link is between talc use and ovarian cancer. Specifically, why would powder usage lead to cancer? Even this is not abundantly clear. Some researchers believe that the talc crystals move up the genitourinary tract into the peritoneal cavity and subsequently embed in the ovaries. In fact, Deane Berg, a plaintiff with ovarian cancer who won a verdict against Johnson and Johnson , had talc particles found in her cancerous tissue. Dr. Tworoger believes that it may be that talc causes inflammation which can then play a role in the development of cancer cells in the ovaries. The Food and Drug Administration has refused to require a warning label on the products, finding that there is no conclusive evidence to establish causality.
So then, why does Johnson and Johnson keep losing lawsuits if the evidence is inconclusive that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer? It seems possible that the jurors don’t know who to believe. Both sides hire experts that put forth studies supporting their claims. Perhaps the jurors just believe that Johnson and Johnson is a multi-billion dollar company that cares more about making money than keeping women safe. Bottom line – why take the chance? Stick to a talc free, cornstarch-based powder which are considered safe when used anywhere on a woman’s body.
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