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LOWRY: Cases explore cancer-talcum link

Earlier this year, juries in two different cases awarded significant damages to women who claimed that using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and shower-to-shower products, which contain talcum powder, contributed to the development of ovarian cancer.

In February, a jury awarded $72 million to the family of Jacqueline Fox, an Alabama woman who died from ovarian cancer that her family claimed was caused Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder. A few months later, a jury awarded $55 million to Gloria Ristesund, a South Dakota woman who utilized Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder for feminine hygiene for more than 35 years and was subsequently diagnosed with ovarian cancer and forced to undergo a hysterectomy.

In both cases, Johnson & Johnson was found liable for injuries. One of the main reasons why the company was found liable was that evidence showed the pharmaceutical company concealed key information about talcum powder’s safety for more than 40 years, including evidence linking its baby powder and shower-to-shower talcum powders to ovarian cancer. The pharmaceutical giant has been named as a defendant in more than 1,200 talcum powder-related ovarian cancer lawsuits that are currently pending in courts around the country.

Ovarian cancer affects approximately 21,000 women in the United States each year. Because it is often diagnosed at a relatively late stage, ovarian cancer tends to be fatal, making it the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among women.

The potential connection between talcum powder and ovarian cancer was first revealed in 1971, when scientists in the U.K. discovered talc particles embedded in ovarian and cervical tumors and published a study in The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Commonwealth. A 2003 analysis of 16 studies involving nearly 12,000 women, published in Anticancer Research, concluded that talc is associated with a higher risk of ovarian cancer. A 2013 study of more than 8,000 women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, published in Cancer Prevention Research, found that women who used talcum powder for feminine hygiene were up to 30 percent more likely to contract ovarian cancer.

However, a number of other studies have been inconclusive or have provided conflicting results. The National Center for Biotechnology Information’s 2014 study of more than 61,000 women found no link between talc and ovarian cancer, and the American Cancer Society has refused to classify talcum powder as a carcinogenic substance.

Talcum powder comes from talc, a soft, naturally occurring mineral used in a wide range of cosmetic products, foods and drugs. Composed primarily of silicon, magnesium and hydrogen, talc has a tendency to absorb moisture, prevent caking and reduce friction, which makes it popular for a variety of commercial, cosmetic uses.

Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, ingredients in cosmetic products like talcum powder are not required to undergo stringent FDA testing or to secure FDA approval prior to being released on the market. Instead, the responsibility for informing the public about product safety and providing appropriate labeling falls on the manufacturer, leaving consumers vulnerable to products that are potentially dangerous.

 

Stephen G. Lowry is a partner with the law firm of Harris Penn Lowry LLP who has handled numerous product liability claims. He can be reached at steve@hpllegal.com, 912-651-9967 or www.hpllegal.com. 

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