Talcum Powder Linked to Ovarian Cancer
Several juries conclude that Johnson & Johnson failed to warn that their popular baby powder and feminine hygiene products were linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Talc is a common industrial and personal use mineral that sits on the shelves of most American homes in some form of talcum powder. Because talc is exceptionally absorbent it is frequently used in cosmetic and antiperspirant products like baby powder, color cosmetics, toothpastes, antiperspirant deodorant, and makeup. Yet, though talc has been used for over a hundred years scientists are now discovering that some of its applications can cause cancer in humans. Within the past 5 years two plaintiffs have won cases against Johnson & Johnson on the grounds that their products increase user’s risks of developing ovarian cancer. Medical studies have found strong, statistically significant relationships between genital talc usage and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is a rare cancer that effects around 20,000 women each year. Sadly, it is fatal in a high percentage of cases. In 2012, 20,785 women were diagnosed with the cancer and 14,404 died from ovarian cancer. Yet, despite studies which showed the increased risk of cancer associated with genital talc usage and understanding that their product was potentially dangerous, Johnson & Johnson did not take any action to notify consumers. In fact, in an internal memo from a J & J consultant, the company was made aware that independent researchers had established a real, statistically significant association between talc usage and ovarian cancer.
In light of such shocking findings, two separate juries found J&J guilty of negligence for failing to warn consumers of the risk of ovarian cancer associated with their products. In the 2013 case, Berg v. Johnson & Johnson et al., the court found the defendant guilty, and in the February 23, 2016 case, Hogans et al. v. Johnson & Johnson et al. the jury awarded the plaintiff a $72M verdict. At the time of publication over 1,200 cases have been filed against Johnson & Johnson regarding talc use and ovarian cancer. A Missouri jury also awarded plaintiff Gloria Ristesund $55M on May 3, 2016 on similar findings.
While Johnson & Johnson has an embattled legal history, cases regarding genital use of talc are fairly new. In 2013 in Berg v. Johnson & Johnson et al a jury found that Johnson & Johnson was negligent; it had failed to warn its consumers about the risks associated with its product which resulted in the plaintiffs increased risk of ovarian cancer. Deane Berg, the plaintiff, was 49 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and expert testimony proved that her risk for ovarian cancer was elevated as a result of Johnson & Johnson products containing talcum powder. The jury however, awarded no damages to the plaintiff because she was unable to unable to prove strict liability for injury. Berg’s attorney, R. Allen Smith Jr., believes that Berg’s recovery from cancer and small chance of remission was likely a reason that she was not awarded damages. Smith also explained that Berg’s case was the first U.S. suit to argue that asbestos-free talcum powder increases risk for ovarian cancer.
Less than three years later Berg’s case proved instrumental in the verdict of Hogans et al v. Johnson & Johnson et al. Hogans et al, was filed on behalf of the family of Jacqueline Fox, whose premature death in October, 2015, was linked to use of Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products, including Baby Powder and Shower to Shower. The jury awarded Fox’s family $10M in compensatory damages and $62M in punitive damages against the company, which made it the first talcum-powder case to award damages. The $72M in damages were leveled after Johnson & Johnson was found liable for fraud, conspiracy and negligence.
As of March, 2016 over 1200 cases have been filed against Johnson & Johnson in the U.S on charges of negligence, conspiracy, fraud, and false advertising. If you or your loved one have ovarian cancer and have used a Johnson & Johnson product like Shower to Shower or Baby Powder then you may be entitled to financial compensation.
Talc and Ovarian Cancer in Medical Research
In 1971 British researchers found talc particles “deeply embedded” in a high percentage of observed ovarian tumors. Once the scientific community realized that there might be a relationship between genital talc use and ovarian cancer researchers began to epidemiologically study the issue. Epidemiological studies examine the causes of diseases and the populations of individuals likely to have those diseases through surveys and analytics.
In 1982 thefirst published population study was performed by group of doctors on behalf of the American Cancer Society. From 1982 to 1999 eleven more studies observed the relationship between talc use and ovarian cancer. Of those eleven studies, eight found a statistically significant association between talc and ovarian cancer which indicates that talc use increases the odds of ovarian cancer. The three studies that did not find a significant increase in risk used smaller populations and reported a null result. In 1999 the International Journal of Cancer reported a finding, “there is a significant association between the use of talc in genital hygiene and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer that, when viewed in perspective of published data on this association, warrants more formal public health warnings.” In 2008 the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health released an analysis of 20 studies performed across the world, all of which showed a positive relationship between perineal talc usage and ovarian cancer, though half of the studies showed statistically insignificant or null results. Among the studies identified as most informative, due to the size and participation, the results indicated a 30%-60% elevated risk for talc usage. While researchers have not yet determined if talc directly causes cancer more recent studies are finding high risk factors associated with genital use.
In 2003 researchers performed a meta-analysis of studies on cosmetic talc and found, “a 33% increased risk of ovarian cancer with perineal talc use.”
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer and Risk Factors
Ovarian cancer is a serious form of genital cancer and is often lethal. According to the CDC these symptoms are typical indicators of ovarian cancer.
- Abnormal or excessive vaginal bleeding
- Pelvic or abdominal pain or discomfort
- Back pain
- Weight loss
- A change in bathroom habits, like frequent urination, frequent constipation or diarrhea.
- Feeling full very quickly while eating.
The CDC also warns that Pap tests do not screen for ovarian cancer. Because ovarian cancer is commonly fatal it is especially important to diagnose it quickly. Along with paying attention to the warning signs, like bleeding and pain, you should also consider a specific diagnostic test, such as an ultrasound if:
– You experience the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
– You have a family history of cancer.
– You have previously had cancer.
– You have a genetic abnormality linked to cancer.
Other risk factors include:
• Obesity—obese women (those with a body mass index of at least 30) have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
• Fertility drugs—researchers have found that using fertility drugs may increase the risk for developing ovarian tumors.
• Family history—ovarian cancer risk is increased if your mother, sister, or daughter has had ovarian cancer.
• Breast cancer—a personal history with breast cancer may increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
• Late pregnancy—women who have their first full-term pregnancy after age 35 or who never carried a pregnancy to term have a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
• Estrogen or hormone therapy
The Mayo clinic and CDC have more information on ovarian cancer, but if you think that you or a loved one could be at risk for ovarian cancer please see a physician, and if you have used Johnson & Johnson talc-based products you should also contact a lawyer.