In 2016, a Missouri court ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million to a woman who claimed the talc in her baby powder caused fatal ovarian cancer. In 2018, the brand was ordered to pay a record $4.69 billion to 22 women who claimed the company’s products caused them to develop ovarian cancer. Today, the largest-ever study on the controversial practice was published in JAMA, showing “no statistically significant association” between genital talc use and ovarian cancer.
The study involved 252,745 women who were aged 57 on average. Of those women, 38 percent said that they used powder—whether baby, talcum or deodorizing—in their genital area, 10 percent said they had been doing so for at least 20 years and 22 percent reported using the powder(s) at least once a week.
During 11 years of follow-up, the study found 2,169 of the total pool of women had developed ovarian cancer. Researchers reported the risk was roughly similar for those who used powders and those who didn’t.
“The study found no statistically significant association between genital powder use and ovarian cancer,” says study co-author Katie M. O’Brien of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “This represents the best data we have on the topic.”
The findings were called “overall reassuring” in a piece published alongside the study. While the study is not definitive, larger-scale or more conclusive research likely isn’t feasible, due to a decreasing number of women using the powder for personal hygiene.
Additionally, the study notes a possible association between the powder and ovarian cancer among women with no previous history of hysterectomy or tubal ligation, but this “finding should be considered only exploratory and hypothesis generating.”