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Does talc powder cause cancer?

A recent lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson ended with a $72 million verdict in favor of a family who claimed that their loved one contracted ovarian cancer because of her continued use of talc powder over the years. Though some applaud the verdict, it does raise an important question that could affect other hygiene-product manufacturers in the future: Does talc power cause cancer?

In order to answer this question, we must first look at the history of talc powder and see where it is today. Then we will leave our readers with another question to consider: If J&J faced litigation because of its talc products, are other hygiene-product companies at risk of litigation down the road?

Let's take a look.

Talc is a mineral that is primarily made up of silicon, magnesium and oxygen. It is used in a variety of products as a way of cutting down on friction between two surfaces. Unfortunately, prior to the 1970s, talc powder also contained asbestos in many cases, which is known to cause cancer if inhaled. Knowing the danger, manufacturers stopped using talc that could potentially contain harmful asbestos in exchange for a safer component: corn starch.

The crux of the recently decided on case as well as the 1,200 cases still pending against J&J is whether the company's talc-containing products still pose a risk and whether or not the company has failed to properly warn customers. Though J&J uses asbestos-free talc in its products now, the International Agency for Research on Cancer suggests that even today’s talc, if used in genital areas, could be potentially carcinogenic.

As our rhetorical question suggests, the pending liability lawsuits against J&J suggest that there is a perceived danger regarding the use of products containing talc. If this is the case, then other companies could suffer the same fate as J&J, meaning they too could face serious litigation because of current concerns.

Sources: Insurance Journal, "J&J Must Pay $72M Over Powder Tied to Woman’s Cancer," Tim Bross and Jef Feeley, Feb. 23, 2016

The Telegraph, "Can talcum powder really cause cancer?" Radhika Sanghani, Feb. 24, 2016

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