Many were surprised to hear that Johnson & Johnson was directed to pay $55 Million to the family of an ovarian cancer victim. The jury in this case felt J & J did not adequately warn women about the possibility of getting ovarian cancer from its baby powder products, which are made of talc. There have been numerous concerns raised by scientists over the past 40 years that talc could cause irritation, which could eventually lead to ovarian cancer. However, J & J neither changed their formulation, nor told women this was a concern.
So how do talc based baby powder products cause irritation to the ovaries? There are a number of physiologic reasons this might be possible for women who use baby powder around the opening of the vagina, and on sanitary napkins.
Ovary, from NIH.gov
A woman’s sexual organs have an open pathway that leads from the ovary, to the opening of the vagina, and back.
Each month one of the ovaries releases an egg. This egg travels into the fallopian tube and makes its way down to the uterus. If the woman does not become pregnant it leaves the body through the vagina when she has her period.
Following the reverse pathway of the egg, sperm, bacteria, and talc can all enter through the vagina, make their way into the uterus, up through the fallopian tubes and reach the ovary.
Scientists have been able to find small pieces of talc in tumors that grow on the ovary, so we know it’s possible for these particles to travel from the outside of a woman’s body, to the ovaries.
There is something called “retrograde menenses." What this means, is that during your period blood can back up into the fallopian tubes and enter the abdominal cavity.
Some researchers think it’s possible that talc is carried from the uterus to the ovary on menstrual blood, via the retrograde menenses mechanism. These scientists propose that using baby power and other talc based products on sanitary napkins during your period is more risky than day to day use.
There is little controversy that it is possible for talc to travel to the ovaries, and that talc may cause irritation which could lead to cancer. Johnson & Johnson was aware of this, as demonstrated during recent court cases. The jury felt J & J had a responsibility to warn women, which never happened. Now, many women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, who regularly used talc based products around the vagina, are wondering if their disease was caused by baby powder.
5 R.B. Ness, J.A. Grisso, C. Cottreau, et al.Factors related to inflammation of the ovarian epithelium and risk of ovarian cancerEpidemiology, 11 (2000), pp. 111–117
6 D.S. Heller, C. Westhoff, R.E. Gordon, N. KatzThe relationship between perineal cosmetic talc usage and ovarian talc particle burden Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol., 174 (1996), pp. 1507–1510
7 S. Salvador, B. Gilks, M. Köbel, D. Huntsman, B. Rosen, D. MillerThe fallopian tube: primary site of most pelvic high-grade serous carcinomas Int. J. Gynecol. Cancer, 19 (2009), pp. 58–64