Talcum powder is not linked to ovarian cancer, the largest ever study has concluded, in a major finding likely to reverse the outcomes of several billion-dollar court cases.

US government researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Science pooled data from 252,745 women and found no evidence that talc was dangerous when used as a feminine hygiene product.

In recent years the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson has been forced to pay out billions of dollars in compensation to women who claim to have developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson's Baby Powder.

In 2017 Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay a record $417 million to Eva Echevarria who developed ovarian cancer. Photo / Getty Images
In 2017 Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay a record $417 million to Eva Echevarria who developed ovarian cancer. Photo / Getty Images

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The company told The Telegraph that it would now appeal all verdicts. So far Johnson & Johnson has won four appeals against rulings including a Supreme Court hearing in Missouri.

A spokesman for the company said: "We know that anyone suffering from cancer is searching for answers, which is why the science and facts on this topic are so important.

"The facts are that Johnson's Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer."

In the past few decades, several small studies had pointed to a link between talc and ovarian cancer but many were criticised for recall bias, in which women with ovarian cancer were asked to remember if they had ever used powder.

The new study looked at four cohort studies of women in the US, of whom nearly 40 percent had used talc for feminine hygiene.

Researchers found that there appeared to be a generational trend, with younger women less likely to use the product. But no link could be found between use and development of cancer.

The estimated incidence of ovarian cancer was 61 per 100,000 person-years among 'ever' users, and 55 among 'never' users, too small a difference to be having an impact.

Commenting on the research, Prof Justin Stebbing, NIHR Research Professor of Cancer Medicine and Medical Oncology, Imperial College London, said: "A very well conducted rigorous investigation pooled results from 4 studies in over 250,000 women, to show that talcum powder didn't cause ovarian cancer.

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"There weren't many cases of ovarian cancer in the group so it's possible a small effect has been missed, but it doesn't look like talc is a carcinogen which is an important and reassuring finding, especially as they also looked at duration and frequency of use, again finding no causative effects."

Some scientists feared that talc could be carcinogenic because it sometimes contains asbestos. Most powder products include some mineral talc, which may be mined in the same location as asbestos.

Prof Iain McNeish, Director of the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre at Imperial College London, added: "This is a very well-conducted study by a highly respected group of researchers.

"Proving causation links of this type is incredibly difficult and the authors are very careful to highlight the potential limitations of their study.

"However, this research is robust, analysing data from 250,000 women followed for an average of over 11 years, and has concluded there is no statistically significant relationship between talc use and the development of ovarian cancer."

The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama).