A prestigious medical journal has published the strongest evidence yet that asbestos-tainted talcum powder can cause mesothelioma.
The new article appears in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. It involved 33 mesothelioma patients. In every case, each patient’s only known exposure to asbestos was through talcum powder.
In six cases, researchers went a step further to find asbestos fibers in the tissue samples.
“Asbestos of the type found in talcum powder was found in all six cases evaluated,” reports lead researcher Jacqueline Moline, MD. Dr. Moline is a professor and researcher at Hofstra University School of Medicine in New York.
Since there was no other way for these patients to have come in contact with asbestos, Moline and her team conclude that regular use of talcum powder can cause mesothelioma.
Asbestos and Its Link with Mesothelioma
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral found in the ground. It is the main cause of malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that grows on the membranes around internal organs. Because of its strong link with asbestos, some people refer to mesothelioma as asbestos cancer.
Asbestos was a common component of construction products for decades. Many mesothelioma patients worked around asbestos at some point in their lives. Some of the riskiest jobs were in construction, mining, or asbestos product manufacturing.
Until recently, many people were unaware that talcum powder can cause mesothelioma. Cosmetics companies have been required since the 1970s to keep their powder asbestos-free.
How Asbestos Ends Up in Talc
Talc and asbestos are molecularly different. But they are similar in that they are both minerals and both are mined. When they are ground up, both look like white powder.
Asbestos deposits and talc deposits often lie close to each other in the ground. This is how some talc is thought to become contaminated with fibers of asbestos.
It is impossible to see asbestos in talcum powder. But contaminated talcum powder can cause mesothelioma if a person accidentally inhales it.
The EPA says there is no “safe” level of asbestos exposure. Even small amounts of asbestos can stay in the lungs for decades. Over time, they cause irritation and inflammation that can lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis.
Lawsuits Allege Talcum Powder Can Cause Mesothelioma
One company to come under fire over contaminated talcum powder is Johnson & Johnson. According to the Wall Street Journal, Johnson & Johnson faces more than 15,000 lawsuits alleging that talcum powder can cause mesothelioma and other cancers.
Last week, the company announced a recall of 33,000 bottles of baby powder. US health officials found traces of asbestos in a bottle of baby powder purchased online.
Johnson & Johnson has long maintained that its talcum powder is safe. But earlier this year, a jury awarded $29 million to a California woman who claimed that J&J powder contributed to her mesothelioma.
Because of the risk that talcum powder can cause mesothelioma, the authors of the new study say doctors should ask all newly-diagnosed mesothelioma patients about their use of powder.
Moline, J, et al, “Mesothelioma Associated with the Use of Cosmetic Talc”, October 10, 2019, Jounral of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Epub ahead of print, https://journals.lww.com/joem/Abstract/publishahead/Mesothelioma_Associated_with_the_Use_of_Cosmetic.98349.aspx
Steenhuysen, Julie & Girion, Lisa, “J&J recalls 33,000 bottles of baby powder as FDA finds asbestos in sample”, October 18, 2019, Reuters News, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-johnson-johnson-talc/jj-recalls-33000-bottles-of-baby-powder-as-fda-finds-asbestos-in-sample-idUSKBN1WX1L3
Ducharme, Jaimie, “A New Study Suggests Tainted Talcum Powder Can Cause a Rare Cancer. Here’s How That Could Play Out in the Courtroom”, October 16, 2019, Time, https://time.com/5692129/talcum-powder-mesothelioma/