Much Ado about Nothing?

Does baby powder, either with or without asbestos, cause ovarian cancer? Journalist Julie Steenhuysen says of Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Daniel Cramer that he…

[…] first reported on a potential link between talc and ovarian cancer in 1982. He has published several studies since, and his work suggests that talc exposure increases the risk of ovarian cancer, a rare disease, by 30 percent overall.

The previous Childhood Obesity News post left off with the realization that a randomized clinical trial, the gold standard of scientific proof, is impossible here, because we can’t just go around purposely injecting human subjects with suspected carcinogens. Steenhuysen also quotes Dr. Adetunji Toriola, of the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis:

We know that inflammation increases ovarian cancer risk. We know talcum powder causes inflammation. The question is, does talc cause cancer by causing inflammation in the ovaries?

The venerable Johnson & Johnson corporation was smacked down in a courtroom last year when sued by 22 plaintiffs who believed they developed ovarian cancer because, as adult women, they used baby powder inside their clothes to combat stickiness, discomfort, and odor. A jury awarded damages in an amount north of four billion (with a b) dollars. Of course, that decision is being appealed, as are similar ones. In January of this year, a jury found for a California woman to the tune of $29 million.

Meanwhile, one of J&J’s major talc suppliers has filed for bankruptcy. J&J is being investigated by both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a mind-boggling 13,000 additional lawsuits are on the docket. Actually, out-of-court settlements happen much more frequently than trials, are less costly to the corporation, and attract less publicity. But activists are restless and attorneys are hungry for blood and, apparently, juries have been feeling the same way.

Willful ignorance

Public outrage does not so much center around the possibility that the product might contain a dangerous component. After all, just about all products do, these days. We are accustomed to toxic everything. What gets people mad is the corporation’s decades-long awareness that the product might contain a dangerous component.

And how J&J played hide-and-seek with regulatory agencies. And how they introduced a new cornstarch-based baby powder, almost as if there was something wrong with the talc-based kind. And the company has a history of letting things slide. It was not until 2012 that J&J removed formaldehyde and another dicey chemical from their baby shampoo.

Coming up next: the Obesity Connection.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Evidence on Talc Cancer Risk Differs for Jurors, Researchers,”, 02/24/16
Source: “Does Johnson’s Baby Powder Cause Cancer?,”, 01/09/19
Source: “Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder at Issue as U.S. Subpoenas Company,”, 02/21/19
Source: “Johnson & Johnson Challenges Ovarian Cancer Talcum Powder Verdicts,”, 06/30/16
Photo credit (left to right): Mike Mozart (Jeepers Media) on Visualhunt/CC BY; Internet Archive Book Images on Visualhunt/No known copyright restrictions

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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