A Jury in Missouri, USA, has decided that talcum powder does cause Ovarian Cancer, and awarded 22 women several billion pounds as compensation. Johnson & Jonson, the product manufacturer, are almost certain to appeal against that decision as there are several thousand other women waiting to sue them.

The key issues in that legal case are whether or not the talcum powder contained asbestos, and that Johnson & Johnson knew about the contamination. Lawyers for the Claimants say that Johnson & Johnson knew there was contamination and failed to warn the public, the company deny there was contamination.

The available scientific research is not clear. The American Cancer Society says that some deposits of natural (ie straight out of the ground) talc (a mineral) contains asbestos. Mesothelioma and other (lung) cancers are known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. Some scientific studies suggest a link to other cancers, including ovarian cancer, with exposure to asbestos.

The Society also say “All talcum products used in homes in the United States have been asbestos-free since the 1970s.” If correct this would suggest that cancer causing talcum powder has not been used (in the USA) for nearly 40 years.

A relatively recent scientific review found that there was only a weak statistical association observed in a number of epidemiological studies, and that their review did not support the view that talc caused ovarian cancer.

In the UK a 2016 newspaper article entitled “talc is linked to ovarian cancer” led to the NHS trying to reduce public concern about using talc, and to inject some facts into that story. The NHS considered that there was evidence of a link but “The most reliable figure in this study is the overall 33% risk increase that has used the full study sample, simply assessing past talc use or not”.

If use of (contaminated) Talc did cause ovarian cancer then it may only be to those who used that talc before the end of the 1970s. If not, then there may be another, different, mechanism which could lead to higher numbers of women with a potential claim.

The matter remains open for debate and argument.