Lawsuits Allege Johnson & Johnson Hid Knowledge of Talcum Powder-Ovarian Cancer Link

At recent trials involving allegations that Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder is linked to the development of ovarian cancer, attorneys told the jurors that Johnson & Johnson disregarded decades of warnings signs of the risk.

In addition, Bloomberg reports, the New Jersey pharmaceutical giant specifically targeted black and Hispanic women in its talcum powder marketing long after potential health concerns were raised.

Two talcum powder trials decided this year resulted in damage awards for the plaintiffs. In the first, a Missouri jury awarded $72 million to the family of an Alabama woman who died from ovarian cancer in fall 2015. The civil suit had been filed before the woman’s death and her son became the plaintiff after she died. Then in May, a jury awarded $55 million to a cancer survivor, National Law Journal reports.

Talc is the softest mineral on earth, and is used in body powders because of its ability to absorb odors and moisture. Talc is used in cosmetic products as well and in ceramics, paint, paper, plastic, and rubber, though recently, manufacturers of condoms and surgical gloves have stopped dusting their products with talc.

The first scientific study to report a possible connection between a woman’s talcum powder use and ovarian cancer was published in 1971, Bloomberg reports. Eleven years later, Harvard professor Dr. Daniel W. Cramer and his colleagues found that women who used talcum powder were at nearly twice the risk of developing ovarian cancer, and those who used it regularly on their genitals or sprinkled it on their underwear, tampons or sanitary pads were at more than three times the relative risk, according to the New York Times. Though not all studies indicate an increased risk, 20 show varying degrees of increased risk in women with long-term use of talcum powder for feminine hygiene.

The American Cancer Society explains that talcum powder might cause ovarian cancer because minute talc particles can migrate through the vagina and fallopian tubes into the ovaries and cause inflammation, which is thought to contribute to tumor formation. Many of the women who have filed talcum powder lawsuits report decades of regular talcum powder use.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says about 20,000 American women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer annually and about 14,000 die from the disease. Ovarian cancer often goes undetected at the early stages; symptoms are often dismissed as menstrual or abdominal discomfort. Because there is no approved screening test, often the disease is not diagnosed until later stages, when it is harder to treat.

Jurors in the Alabama woman’s case were told that Johnson & Johnson ignored suspected risks and failed to inform consumers about them. The woman’s attorneys introduced a 24-year-old internal memo that acknowledged “negative publicity from the health community on talc,” but later encouraged the company to focus its marketing on black and Hispanic women. Baby Powder carries a warning to be careful that the baby does not inhale the powder, but there is no mention of a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer.


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