A recently released Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) article examining the link between genital use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer failed to consider lifetime use, according Dr. Anne McTiernan, epidemiologist and researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle and Professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “Because of this, the risks from talcum powder exposure seen in this paper are likely underestimates of their true sizes,” she said.

Other clinicians and the JAMA authors also acknowledged there are limitations with the study, and even the study’s lead author, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences epidemiologist Katie O’Brien, told Reuters that while the study was large, “because ovarian cancer is such a rare disease, it was still not big enough to detect a very small change in risk,” and, in general, “it is not good data.”

The study involved data from about a quarter-million women from four U.S. cohorts. Researchers found that over a median follow-up of just 11.2 years, there were 61 cases of ovarian cancer per 100,000 person-years among women who used powder on their genitals at any point, compared to 55 cases per 100,000 person years for women who had never used powder on their genitals.

The study also found that women who had used talcum powder on their genitals at some time in their lives had an 8% increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Certain groups were at an even higher risk. For example, for women who used baby powder on their genitals and never had a hysterectomy or tubal ligation, the risk of ovarian cancer was 13% higher than women who had never used talcum powder on their genitals. Weekly users of baby powder had a 19% increased risk of developing the disease. And among frequent talcum powder users diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer – the type that most plaintiffs suing consumer health care companies like Johnson & Johnson have been diagnosed with – their risk was 21%.

The article also supported other research that talcum powder particles can travel up the vagina, through the fallopian tubes to the ovaries, where they can inflame tissue and “set off a cascade of increased oxidative stress levels, DNA damage, and cell division, all of which can contribute to carcinogenesis.”

Beasley Allen has been privileged to represent thousands of women who developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson talcum powder on their genitals for feminine hygiene. The firm continues to investigate these cases. For information, contact Ted Meadows, who heads up Beasley Allen’s Talc Litigation team, and Leigh O’Dell, who serves as co-lead counsel in the talc federal multidistrict litigation.

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