(CN) — As Johnson & Johnson fights a tide of multimillion-dollar verdicts for women who say baby powder gave them ovarian cancer, the government published a study Tuesday that shows no strong association between the two.
Researchers with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences pooled data from more than 250,000 women for the study, observing that those who applied talcum powder to their genitals, or put it on their sanitary pads, tampons, underwear or diaphragms had an 8% increased risk of contracting ovarian cancer, compared with those who did not use it.
“That is not a statistically significant increase,” NIEHS epidemiologist Katie O’Brien said in an interview published Tuesday by NPR.
Alongside the paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dana Gossett, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, authored an editorial that calls that the study “underpowered,” as only 2,168 women from the study contracted cancer — a small percentage of the total amount studied.
Gaining a larger sample size of women for a future, more conclusive study may not be possible, however, as the editorial notes that the number of women who use the powder to absorb odor and moisture has declined significantly over the last 50 years. Other studies of association meanwhile have produced inconsistent results.
Another possible shortcoming of the study, acknowledged by researchers, is that the data pooled mostly from white women, although black women are more likely to use powder.
The study, which is not definitive, did find a slightly higher chance of getting cancer among women who hadn’t had their fallopian tubes tied, hypothetically because powder particles would be able to go into the fallopian tubes to their ovaries.
Thousands of women have filed cases against J&J across the U.S. alleging its baby powder caused their cancer because talc-based powder is often found in the same mines as asbestos, a known carcinogen.
J&J has said its powder does not cause cancer and is routinely tested in line with a cosmetics industry rule that prohibits products from containing detectable amounts of asbestos. The company nevertheless recalled a batch of baby powder in October 2019 after government testing found the compound in a bottle.
As recently as last week, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sued J&J, saying that the company has misled black and Hispanic women and children by saying their products are safe and that it has known for decades that its powders contain carcinogenic asbestos. J&J disputes the state’s claims.
O’Brien declined in an email Wednesday to comment on potential legal implications of the study.