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What you need to know: asbestos, talc and cancer

Asbestos, talc and ovarian cancer have been in the news recently, with the awarding of $417 million in damages in a lawsuit tying ovarian cancer to talcum powder. Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay the millions to an East Los Angeles medical receptionist who developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson's Baby Powder for decades. (Though a judge has since overturned the record verdict, citing an error in law and jury misconduct.)

Some 5,000 separate cases are pending against the company. So far, juries have found Johnson & Johnson liable in four lawsuits, with damages totaling more than $700 million.

To help you understand the risks, dangers and complexities of asbestos, talc and ovarian cancer, here's what you need to know:

Asbestos.

A naturally occurring fibrous material, asbestos fibers are microscopic and are resistant to fire, heat and electricity. For many years, asbestos was used in insulation as well as a wide range of commercial products. Proven to be the primary cause of several types of cancer, asbestos is also a contributory cause of other cancers. It is best known for causing mesothelioma cancer.

Symptoms of mesothelioma can take decades to appear after exposure to asbestos. Although this cancer can originate in the heart or abdomen, it is most commonly found in the lining of the lungs. This type of cancer is extremely deadly.

Talc.

Talc, a clay mineral known for being the softest mineral, is composed of magnesium, silicon and oxygen. In its natural form, some talc has been known to contain asbestos. Talc and asbestos often occur naturally near each other. Talc is used in talcum powder for its skin drying and friction reducing properties.

Since the 1970s, the United States has banned asbestos in all talcum products. However, some talcum powder products imported from China and other countries still contain asbestos.

Ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells are found in or around the outer layer of the ovaries. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women ages 35-74.

The big question.

Does talcum powder cause cancer? According to a recent study reviewing data about talc and ovarian cancer, the conclusion states, "In general, there is a consistent association between perineal talc use and ovarian cancer."

What if you've used talcum powder?

It's not recommended to use talcum powder near your genitals. If you are using it this way, stop. If you or a loved one has received an ovarian cancer diagnosis and believes the cancer may have been caused by using talcum powder, talk to an attorney knowledgeable about the dangers of these products.

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