“African American women have been targeted for use of body powder, and they use it more commonly … I’ve concluded – why use it?” – Joellen Schildkraut, epidemiologist at the University of Virginia
In 1971, researchers discovered talc particles embedded in ovarian tumors and alerted the medical community of a possible link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.
Since then, numerous studies have produced similar results, including a 2016 University of Virginia study which found that African American women who used talcum powder for feminine hygiene had more than a 40 percent increased risk of cancer.
The study is a clear indication that African American women who regularly use talcum powder are at greater risk for developing ovarian cancer than their peers.
Risk of Ovarian Cancer Greater for Black Women Who Use Talcum Powder
Feminine hygiene use of talcum powder is part of a self-care routine for many African American women. According to a 2015 case control study conducted in Los Angeles, California, 44 percent of black women use talcum powder as part of a feminine hygiene routine compared to only 30 percent of white women.
Jacqueline Fox, an African American woman from Alabama, dusted the lining of her panties with Johnson & Johnson’s Shower to Shower line of talcum powder each morning for over 35 years. “I was raised up on it,” Fox explained in a deposition. “[It] was to help you stay fresh and clean … We ladies have to take care of ourselves.”
In 2013, Fox was diagnosed with advanced stage ovarian cancer. Upon learning that the talcum powder she used for feminine hygiene might be to blame, she immediately stopped using it.
Fox filed a talcum powder lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson alleging the company knew about the link between feminine hygiene use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer, but failed to warn the public. Rather than inform consumers about the cancer risk, J&J ran advertising campaigns with catchy jingles promising that “a sprinkle a day helps keep the odor away.”
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, an internal J&J memo from 1992 acknowledged the potential links to cancer, while simultaneously recommending more aggressive marketing to African American and Hispanic women.
In the memo, J&J planned to “grow the franchise” by targeting African American and Hispanic consumers, but also noted that “negative publicity from the health community on talc (inhalation, dust, negative doctor endorsement, cancer linkage) continues.”
Months after Jacqueline Fox died of ovarian cancer in October of 2015, a St. Louis jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay her family $72 million in damages. Her son wept in the courtroom upon hearing the jury’s verdict.
Despite Knowledge of Ovarian Cancer Link, Johnson & Johnson Targeted African American and Hispanic Women in Marketing
In April 2016, just a couple of months after the Fox verdict, Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley wrote an article for Time Magazine entitled, “Profiting from the Myths About Black Women’s Bodies.” Tinsley, an associate professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas, used Fox’s story as another example of the shameful treatment of African American women by corporations, which “have long taken advantage of the beauty rituals that African American women love.”
Citing research from George Washington University’s Health Sciences Research Commons, Tinsley wrote that black women “spend about four times as much as white women on hair, and twice as many black women douche and deodorize compared with our white counterparts.” Aware of this statistic, Tinsley argues that corporations have long worked to gain from the beauty routines of black women:
“For decades, companies, including Johnson & Johnson, continued marketing to encourage black women to spend money on talcum powder, which could cause cancer in our reproductive organs even as they promise to ‘freshen’ them. Because buyers were women, they were the advertisers’ targets; because they were women, they were vulnerable to side effects the companies never exposed.”
More Than 20,000 American Women Diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer Each Year
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 20,000 American women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer on an annual basis. Of that total, roughly 14,500 die from the disease.
Many epidemiologists have called for warning labels to be placed on talcum powder products.
“In the interests of public health, I believe we should caution women against using genital talcum powder,” wrote Dr. Steven Narod in a recent editorial. A cancer genetics expert, Narod argued that it is “disingenuous” for companies like J&J to state that there is no evidence to support a link between talc and ovarian cancer. Despite all of the studies linking talc use to ovarian cancer, J&J has never issued a warning on any of its talcum powder products.
Representing Victims in Talcum Powder Ovarian Cancer Cases
Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman represents hundreds of women across the United States who developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson baby powder products for feminine hygiene. If you or a loved one was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson baby powder as part of a regular feminine hygiene routine, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.