Talcum Powder causes Ovarian Cancer? Depends on who you ask. According to Johnson and Johnson the maker of their flagship baby powder product and their follow up product, Shower to Shower, the answer is a resounding NO!
But the jury asked to sit and weigh through the evidence presented in the third bellwether trial to take place in St. Louis would disagree vehemently.
For the third time, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has been hammered with a significant multimillion-dollar jury verdict, and the jury found that the talc in its baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine genital hygiene.
Jury: Talc causes Ovarian Cancer
Late week, the St. Louis jury awarded $70.1 million to Deborah Giannecchini, 62 of Modesto, California, who was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in 2012.
According to Giannecchini, she used Johnson’s Baby Powder for more than 40 years to keep her genital area dry. She blamed the company for her end stage ovarian cancer and blamed J&J for negligence for not notifying consumers and doctors about the risk of cancer from its talcum powder products.
Two other jury trials in St. Louis over the past year reached the same result, awarding the plaintiffs $72 million and $55 million. Key evidence presented at recent trials included company documents that suggested J&J knew of the potential link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer since the 1970s.
But, even as recently as 1992, some “smoking gun” documents reveal that the company specifically targeted sales towards women who were high users of talcum powder, without ever warning them of the possible cancer risks.
The next trial is set to start in January, also in St. Louis.
A Tale of Two Courts
The court and the judge can make all the difference in the high stakes world of multimillion-dollar litigation. When the same evidence was presented in federal court in New Jersey, the home state of J&J, the judge overseeing the cases dismissed the lawsuits, claiming that there was no reliable scientific evidence that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer.
The cases didn’t even get to the jury.
J&J says it will fight
J&J attorney John Beisner says the world’s largest pharmaceutical and medical device health care giant plans to fight every lawsuit, rather than settle, “for the fundamental reason that the science on which they’re based is totally lacking.”
Most of the pending 2,000 plus cases are filed in state court Missouri, California, and federal court New Jersey
What is Talc?
Talc is a mineral that is mined around the world, including the US. Talc is softest of minerals, and it’s crushed into a white powder. Talcum powder is made from talc, and as a powder, it absorbs moisture well and helps cut down on friction, making it useful for keeping skin dry and helping to prevent rashes.
It is widely used in cosmetic products such as baby powder, adult body and facial powders, as well as in a number of other consumer products.
Does Talcum Powder cause Ovarian Cancer?
It is important to differentiate between talc that contains asbestos and talc that is asbestos-free. Talc that has asbestos is accepted as causing cancer if it is inhaled. Asbestos containing talc is not used in consumer products since the 1970’s. The evidence about asbestos-free talc, which is widely used, is less clear.
Unfortunately medical science rarely provides clear cut black and white answers when it comes to what causes cancer. The cause of any cancer is difficult and many fold, a complex inter-relationship between diet, ethnicity, environmental exposures, social conditions, genetic factors, and exposure to drugs and toxins for example.
Ovarian cancer is often sadly fatal in many cases, but fortunately it’s relatively rare. Ovarian cancer accounts for about 22,000 of the 1.7 million new cases of cancer expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year.
Known risk factors that increase a women’s risk of ovarian cancer include age, obesity, use of estrogen therapy after menopause, not having any children, certain genetic mutations and personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
Medical Studies-mixed bag
The biggest prospective studies have found no link between talcum powder applied to the genitals and ovarian cancer. But about two dozen smaller, retrospective studies over three decades have found a connection — a 20 to 40 percent increased risk among talc users.
It is postulated that talc particles travel up the reproductive tract, enter the ovaries and then trigger cancer by causing an inflammatory reaction.
The National Cancer Institute’s Dr. Nicolas Wentzensen says the federal agency’s position is that there’s not a clear connection.
According to Wentzensen, “it is very hard to establish causal relationships, a lot of ovarian cancers occur in women who have never used talc, and many women have used talc and not gotten ovarian cancer.”
Research director Elizabeth Ward of the American Cancer Society says it is unusual to have so much discrepancy between studies. According to Ward, “the risk for any individual woman, if there is one, is probably very small.”
What do the expert agencies say?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization (WHO).
IARC classifies talc that contains asbestos as “carcinogenic to humans.” Based on the lack of data from human studies and on limited data in lab animal studies, IARC classifies inhaled talc not containing asbestos as “not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans.”
Based on limited evidence from human studies of a link to ovarian cancer, IARC classifies the perineal (genital) use of talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
The US National Toxicology Program (NTP) is formed from parts of several different government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The NTP has not fully reviewed talc (with or without asbestos) as a possible carcinogen.
So does Talcum Powder cause Ovarian Cancer?
Three juries have said yes after reviewing all the data presented. Now you be the judge.