Asbestos & Ovarian Cancer

This year, 20,000 American women will receive the devastating diagnosis of ovarian cancer. It’s the most deadly cancer that occurs in women’s reproductive systems, and for many women, deception may be the cause of their cancer. For decades, companies sold talcum powder products contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos without warning consumers of the danger. In fact, these products were often promoted as safe, even as the manufacturers had direct knowledge of asbestos contamination and the possible health consequences.

These companies chose to keep their profits safe, instead of protecting people.

Asbestos is a well-known cancer-causing substance. Decades of scientific study has established a link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, a rare and incurable cancer found in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. But in recent years, another cancer site has become a concern: the ovaries.

Studies have now linked ovarian cancer to asbestos exposure from contaminated talcum powder products, and suggest women who have been exposed to asbestos are nearly two times more likely to develop the disease than those not exposed to asbestos.

Until late 2011, the link between asbestos exposure and ovarian cancer risk was unclear.  Not only was it hard to make a distinction pathologically between peritoneal mesothelioma and ovarian cancer, but it was assumed that women were at a lower risk for asbestos-related diseases because the main source of asbestos exposure – industrial jobs – were usually performed by men.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer arm of the World Health Organization, investigated common limitations in studies of asbestos-related diseases. The IARC found excessive ovarian cancer deaths among female factory workers through the 20th century, confirming asbestos as the cause. This prompted the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) School of Public Health to take a closer look.

Through in-depth analysis, UIC researchers found that asbestos fibers can accumulate in the ovaries from exposure both at home and at work. Some women were even exposed second-hand – coming into contact with men who worked with asbestos-containing materials or in asbestos-related industries. But not all women with ovarian cancer were exposed in these ways. What was the cause of their cancer?

Unknown to them, millions of women were exposed to asbestos through the talcum powder products that they used every day for hygiene. Evidence showed that the common, seemingly-harmless daily self-care routine of these women, which included vaginal use of talc, was a cause of their ovarian cancer. The talc in many powder products sold to women also contained asbestos, and the companies producing these products kept it a secret.

UIC discovered that cancer develops when asbestos fibers become lodged in ovarian tissue, leading to chronic inflammation. Exactly how these fibers enter the ovaries – whether through the reproductive tract, the bloodstream, or the lymph system – is still unknown. Women’s susceptibility to ovarian cancer, non-occupational risk factors, and the latency period between exposure and development of the disease (which, for mesothelioma, is 10-50 years) is also little understood.

Despite limitations in their study, UIC’s support of IARC data was conclusive: that exposure to asbestos from talc use is indeed associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Furthermore, this risk is about one-and-three-quarter times higher. The IARC now classifies asbestos-containing talc as “carcinogenic to humans.”

If you believe you or a loved one could have developed ovarian cancer as a result of genital talc use, Simmons Hanly Conroy may be able to help. Contact Us for a free legal consultation today.

Simmons Support Team
Simmons Hanly ConroyWritten by:

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