A majority of premenopausal women in the U.S. regularly dust their genital area, sanitary pads or contraceptive diaphragms with cosmetic grade talcum powder. Women are being persuaded to dust themselves to mask alleged genital odors using Johnson & Johnson’s dust, which is widely distributed by Osco and Walgreens. For over five decades, talcum powder has symbolized freshness and cleanliness.
“Seeking Carcinogenic Labeling on Cosmetic Talc Products” was the subject of a Citizen Petition submitted to the FDA by the Chicago-based Cancer Prevention Coalition and New York Center for Constitutional Rights on November 17, 1994. Dr. Quentin Young, Chairman of The Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, and Senator Edward Kennedy endorsed the Petition. Over a decade after he first submitted a request to the Senate in 1997, the FDA still has not placed a cancer warning on talc products.
The Petition specifically warned of the danger of frequent exposure to cosmetic grade talc, based on 15 publications dating back to the 1960’s in leading scientific journals. Dr. John Bailey, who was FDA’s former Director of the Office of Cosmetics and Colors and is currently the Director of the Personal Care Products Council, dismissed the Petition after more than a year of delay. In the following years, more than forty further scientific publications have confirmed that the use of talc powder in the genital cavity increases ovarian cancer risk by 35% to 90%. The 1971 study identifying talc particles in ovarian cancers, a finding contested by Johnson & Johnson’s medical director, Dr. G.Y. Hildick Smith, is of particular interest. The renowned journal The Lancet, however, issued a warning in 2004 that “talc’s potentially harmful effects on the ovary should not be ignored.” A 2004 report further supported this warning regarding talc’s major risk of ovarian cancer. Women whose fallopian tubes had been tied, preventing talc dust from entering the ovaries, did not experience such a risk, however.
It is a relatively rare cancer at any age, but the mortality rate for women over 65 with ovarian cancer has increased dramatically in the last three decades, increasing by 12 percent for whites and 33 percent for blacks. A total of 15,300 women die each year from ovarian cancer, which is the fourth most common form of cancer in women.
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