Talc Powder and Ovarian Cancer

The Evidence Linking Talc to Ovarian Cancer

Over the last 20 years, a growing body of epidemiological evidence indicates an association between the perineal (genital) use of talc-based powders and ovarian cancer. Based on scientific principles and methodologies, some experts who have studied the issue believe that the association rises to what science deems as a “causal connection.” Simply put, these experts believe prolonged perineal (genital) use of talc-based body powders can cause ovarian cancer.

Studies Linking Talc to Ovarian Cancer

In General

Several published scientific studies have indicated a link between the genital use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer — some of these studies showing over a 30% increased risk for developing ovarian cancer following the long-term use of talc-based powders in the genital area.

Case-Control Study Published in 2016

A case-controlled study published in the May 2016 issue of the journal Epidemiology reported on the link between talcum powder and cancer finding that women who routinely applied talc powder to their genital areas had a 33% higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

2013 Pooled Analysis of Eight Studies: 20% to 30% Increase

In 2013, the journal Cancer Prevention Research published an analysis of eight case-control studies that examined the association between talc use and epithelial ovarian cancer. The combined analysis found that combined, the studies suggest a “20% to 30% Increase in Risk of Developing Epithelial Ovarian Cancer, Including Serous, Endometrioid, and Clear Cell Tumors

2000 Study – Suggests Increased Risk of Serous Ovarian Cancer

Serous ovarian cancer is the most common form of ovarian cancer, accounting for almost 70% of the ovarian cancer cases diagnosed annually. A study published in 2000 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute concluded that “perineal talc use may modestly increase the risk of invasive serous ovarian cancer.”

International Agency for Research on Cancer

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (“IARC”) is an arm of the World Health Organization that examines the cancer-causing properties of various substances, compounds, chemicals, etc. The IARC studied the cancer-promoting properties of talc and classified the genital use of talc-based powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” relative to ovarian cancer.

Recent Disclosure of Internal Company Documents

Over the last several years, nationwide litigation has been underway in which women allege that their peroneal use of talc-containing baby and body powders caused their ovarian cancers. The main defendants in this are Johnson & Johnson, manufacturer of Johnson’s Baby Powder® and Shower to Shower®, and Imerys Corporation, supplier of talc to Johnson & Johnson. Through the formal “discovery” process in this litigation, internal company documents produced by Johnson & Johnson reveal that company concerns over asbestos-contaminated talc date back several decades and that the company waged a fierce campaign to suppress data, test results, scientific papers and other information that talc in its Baby Powder® contained asbestos. According to a Reuters investigation published December 14, 2018:

“A Reuters examination of many of those documents, as well as deposition and trial testimony, shows that from at least 1971 to the early 2000s, the company’s raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos, and that company executives, mine managers, scientists, doctors and lawyers fretted over the problem and how to address it while failing to disclose it to regulators or the public.”

The Evolving Talc Litigation

The first case against Johnson & Johnson alleging that its Johnson’s Baby Powder caused ovarian cancer was filed in United States District Court in South Dakota. Since that first case – which resulted in verdict for the Plaintiff, Deane Berg – cases continued to be filed, principally in state courts in St. Louis, Missouri, New Jersey., the District of Columbia and, most recently, California, Delaware and Rhode Island. In addition to litigation in state courts, centralized, consolidated and coordinated talc litigation is under way in the federal court system. That federal litigation procedure is known as an “MDL” – multi-district litigation – and the talc MDL is centralized in Trenton, New Jersey before Judge Freda L. Wolfson.

Talc-Ovarian Cancer Litigation – Verdicts and Status

Prior to 2016, most of the talc legal proceedings took place in Missouri state court sitting in St. Louis. In 2016, the federal Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation (JPMDL) created MDL 2738 and assigned responsibility for centralization and coordination of all federal talc cases to Judge Freda L. Wolfson sitting in Trenton, New Jersey. While the establishment of MDL did not have an immediate impact on the continuing state court talc litigation, however, in 2017, the U. S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision the result of which transfer most talc cases into MDL 2738.

There have been seven (7) ovarian cancer-talc jury verdicts – all but one have found Johnson & Johnson liable for failing to warn about the risk of ovarian cancer posed by its talc-containing Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower.

November 22, 2013 — Deane Berg brought the first talc case against Johnson & Johnson after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. A federal jury sided with Berg, but no damages were awarded, because there wasn’t enough evidence connecting her diagnosis with talc. The jury did state that women should have been warned about the potential risks. Deane Berg continues to speak out about the lack of an ovarian cancer warning on talc-containing powders.

February 22, 2016 - $72 million awarded — Jackie Fox was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away in 2015 after using Johnson’s baby powder for years. Her family was awarded $72 million dollars when her attorneys proved that Johnson & Johnson knew about studies linking its products to ovarian cancer and failed to warn customers about possible dangers.

May 2, 2016 - $55 million awarded — Gloria Ristesund used talc-containing Johnson & Johnson powders for decades before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. A state court jury in Missouri found Johnson & Johnson liable for failing to warn about the risk of ovarian cancer posed by talc-containing powder.

October 27, 2016 – $70 million awarded — Deborah Giannecchini used Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder for feminine hygiene for more than four decades. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and filed suit against Johnson & Johnson. A state court jury in St. Louis Missouri found Johnson & Johnson was negligent for failing to warn about the risk of ovarian cancer posed by talc-containing powder and awarded her $70million.

March 3, 2017 – Defense Verdict — A jury found Johnson & Johnson was not responsible for Nora Daniels’ ovarian cancer.

May 4, 2017 – $110 million awarded — A state court jury in St. Louis awarded Lois Slemp $110 million for failing to warn her about the risk of ovarian cancer posed by talc-containing powder.

August 21, 2017 – $417 million awarded — A state court jury in Los Angeles California awarded Eva Echeverria $417 million for failing to warn her about the risk of ovarian cancer posed by talc-containing powder. The verdict included $347 million in punitive damages sending a loud and clear message to Johnson & Johnson.

July 12, 2018 - $4.69 billion awarded — a St Louis jury reached a unanimous verdict in a products liability case involving 22 women proceeding as joint Plaintiffs against Johnson & Johnson (J&J). The verdict is one of the largest in a products liability case – awarding the 22 plaintiffs $25 million each in compensatory damages and, in addition to that total of $550 million, then awarding an additional $4.14 billion in punitive damages, for a total award of $4.69 billion.

Punitive damages are generally awarded to punish a defendant for its bad conduct which, in the eyes of the jury, was undertaken in reckless disregard for the health and safety of plaintiff, i.e. essentially placing the pursuit of profits ahead of concerns for the safety of the public. Here, the jury judged J&J’s conduct as justifying the imposition of punitive damages, Specifically the jury judged that, in pursuing profits from the sale of its talc-containing Baby Powder®, J&J failed to warn about the health dangers and ovarian cancer risk posed by the use of talc-containing powder. In addition to the health risks posed by talc, this case included evidence that J&J knew and failed to warn consumers that the talc used by J&J in producing its powder contained asbestos fibers.

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Berfield S et al. Johnson & Johnson Has a Baby Powder Problem: More than 1,000 women are suing the company for covering up a cancer risk. Bloomberg Businessweek. March 31, 2016. http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-baby-powder-cancer-lawsuits/
Bross T et al. J&J Must Pay $72 Million Over Talc Tied to Woman's Cancer. Bloomberg. February 22-23, 2016. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-23/j-j-ordered-to-pay-72-million-over-talc-tied-to-ovarian-cancer
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“In Battle Over Johnson’s Baby Powder, Asbestos Opens a New Legal Front” by Roni Caryn Rabin and Tiffany Hsu, New York Times, December 14, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/14/business/baby-powder-asbestos-johnson-johnson.html

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