According to research conducted by the American Cancer Society in the United States, approximately 22,240 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2018 and about 14,070 women die as a result of this cancer.
When it comes to fatal premature deaths among women, it is ovarian cancer that ranks fifth, which accounts for more deaths than any other kind of cancer that involves the female reproductive system.
A woman has a 1 in 78 chance, of getting this cancer during her lifetime while she has about 1 in 108 chance of dying from it.
What is Talcum Powder?
One of the topics making headlines recently is the lawsuits against pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson filed by over 4,800 women who have ovarian cancer and their families over its talc products. The plaintiffs allege that their cancer was caused by the company’s talcum powder.
First off, what exactly is talcum powder? It is a refined powder made from talc, the softest mineral on earth.
Whether you call it baby powder or talcum powder, its silky white softness is what makes it one of the essential products for baby care. Being an “inert” ingredient, talc does not generate a chemical reaction when it is used on the skin or ingested.
Once talc is extracted from the earth, it is partially crushed and then sorted and assigned a grade. Companies then take the talc that meets their standards and mill it to a powder, conduct a particle size test and confirm for purity.
The methodologies that companies use to test and detect asbestos was developed by the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association in the year 1976.
The testing methodology is used to detect asbestos in cosmetic-grade talcum powder and it is still accepted and used by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Johnson & Johnson says that the methodology they use for their baby powder exceeds the standard of the CFTA.
Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder
In 1894, Johnson & Johnson began the sale of talc after customers complained that the brand’s original medicated bandages caused skin irritation.
The scientific director of the company then mailed Italian talc to those customers to help soothe their irritated skin. Because it worked so well, customers began using it on diaper rashes that their babies developed and wrote letters to Johnson & Johnson telling them about how useful the talc was. This is when the company took the cue and created Johnson’s Toilet and Baby Powder.
Since then, Johnson & Johnson has grown into a company worth $338.6 billion, offering people countless consumer products, medicine, and medical devices. However, according to branding experts, the company’s image may have been shaped the most by the Baby Powder, even though it does not have the highest ranking in sales.
In 2016 alone, Johnson & Johnson earned nearly $325.2 million from sales of talc-based products like perfumed talc, baby talcum powder, general-purpose talc, and “liquid talcs” (these are perfumed liquids that leave a powdery feel when sprayed over the body).
Consumers also use the powder as a foot powder, dry shampoo, and a general after-shower ritual. Many women use it all over their body, from head to toe. Some also use it for feminine hygiene.
Women who filed a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson have testified that they sprinkled the company’s baby powder on sanitary napkins, tampons, underwear and on their thighs to help in preventing chafing. The use of the product in this area is what has caused scientists concern.
Does Talcum Powder Cause Ovarian Cancer?
As mentioned earlier, thousands of women have sued Johnson & Johnson, claiming that they developed ovarian cancer after they used talcum or baby powder as part of their daily feminine hygiene regimen. They want the company to put a warning label on the product as a handful of other manufacturers of talcum powder have done.
For instance, Shower & Bath Absorbent Body Powder made by Assured has a label stating that the product is “intended for external use only”. The label also goes on to say that applying talcum powder in the female genital area on a frequent basis may increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson argues that putting such a warning label on the package of their baby powder would be confusing. The company also says that their powder does not have anything to do with ovarian cancer. A few scientists have supported the company in court while others have supported the claims of the women who sued the company.
So, does talcum or baby powder cause ovarian cancer? There is a lot of debate on this topic in the scientific community. There have been studies showing that using talc in the genital area increases the risk of ovarian cancer, but some studies have found that it does not.
The fact is that everyone in the scientific community agrees that more research is required to find out if talcum powder does indeed cause ovarian cancer.
Lawyers are right in the middle of this debate and they have put this science under the microscope in courtrooms all over the United States. They have provided juries with selective internal memos from Johnson & Johnson suggesting that the company has had knowledge of the potential problem for many years and failed to do anything about it.
In one related batch of lawsuits that were filed against Johnson & Johnson, it was argued that the baby powder produced by the company is contaminated with asbestos. It further went on to say that the asbestos in the talcum powder caused women who used the product to develop mesothelioma.
Talc and asbestos are commonly mined next to each other. However, since the 1970s, it has been mandatory for talc used in all consumer products to be free of asbestos. Johnson & Johnson staunchly states that there is no asbestos in their talc or baby powder.
Concerns about a connection between talc and ovarian cancer began to surface around 1971. This was when a small group of scientists wrote that they found particles of talc deeply embedded in cervical and ovarian tumor tissue.
The study conducted by these scientists concluded that talc cannot be incriminated as a leading cause of carcinomatous changes based only on the description in the study.
However, they also said that it is possible that there may be a link between talc and other predisposing factors, and that this possibility should not be disregarded. The scientists also said that there should be more research on the issue to determine if talc can cause cancers of the female reproductive system.
Talcum Powder Lawsuits
People have filed thousands of lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, claiming that the company failed to warn people that the talc in their baby powder increases the risk for ovarian cancer and mesothelioma when the product is used for personal hygiene.
It should be noted that Johnson & Johnson is not the only company that has been sued over claims of ovarian cancer. A large portion of these lawsuits includes the talc product manufacturer because the market has been dominated by its products the longest.
Some lawsuits are filed against Valeant Pharmaceuticals, the current owner of the Shower to Shower brand. Johnson & Johnson owned the brand until 2012. Others include Imerys Talc America and Gold Bond’s talcum powder, which is a product that is manufactured by Chattem Inc.
As part of the talcum powder lawsuits, lawyers for the plaintiffs claim that for more than 40 years, talcum powder manufacturers have known that there is a link between the use of the product and ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
But, they intentionally chose not to warn the many women using talc that their product could possibly lead to cancer by entering the vagina after it is used for personal hygiene, and particularly after it is used on the genital area or on condoms or sanitary napkins.
Talcum Powder Side Effects and Injuries
When women use talcum powder, the most serious potential side effect is ovarian cancer. This cancer occurs when the powder enters the ovaries via the vagina. Another one is mesothelioma, which a person develops when the talcum powder enters the lungs. A woman is more likely to develop cancer when she uses talcum powder on a frequent basis.
While it is not yet known how exactly talcum powder causes cancer, one theory is that chronic inflammation develops in the genital area as particles of talc rise up to the fallopian tubes and ovaries through the uterus.
Other than direct contact with the mucous membrane, talcum powder may increase the risk of cancer by suppressing some antibodies that usually provide protection against the disease. Prominent medical experts say that regular perennial use of products that contain talc can increase a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer by roughly 30%.
As mentioned earlier, there is also a link between talcum powder and respiratory issues, such as mesothelioma.
This results from the powder being airborne during normal application. Before the 1970s, and even in this day and age, there are a number of talcum products containing asbestos, which is a mineral that occurs naturally and a known carcinogen. In addition, researchers have found that there is a chemical similarity between asbestos and talc.
Talc, like asbestos, is a silicate mineral, which has a crystalline structure. When they are ingested, these minerals have been found to result in irritation, which leads to the chronic inflammation that causes cancerous tumors to form.
Settlement Amounts in Talcum Powder Lawsuits
Many talcum powder lawsuits have been filed against manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson, in recent years. The settlements, that some plaintiffs have received are staggering. Here is a look at some of the settlement amounts from talcum powder lawsuits.
- In February 2016, Johnson & Johnson was held liable for the death of Jacqueline Fox by a jury. She had been using the company’s baby powder for decades as part of her daily personal hygiene routine. The jury awarded an amount of $55 million.
- In May 2016, a jury in Missouri found in favor of Gloria Ristesund, who was undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer. She contracted the disease after decades of using Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Powder on her pelvic area. As a result, she had to go through a hysterectomy and other surgical procedures. She was awarded $55 million by the jury – $50 million for punitive damages and $5 million for compensatory damages.
- In October 2016, a jury from St. Louis awarded $70 million to Deborah Giannechhini, who had developed ovarian cancer in 2012 after using Johnson’s Baby Powder for many years. Her lawyer said that when the jury issued this verdict, it reaffirmed how important it was for Johnson & Johnson to warn the public about the risk of ovarian cancer associated with its product.
- In May 2017, Lois Slemp was awarded $110 million by a St. Louis jury. In her lawsuit, she alleged that she developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products over a span of 40 years. Cancer then spread to her liver. Slemp also alleged that there was asbestos in Johnson’s Baby Powder, which the company denied. Of the $110 million that the jury awarded her, $105 million was for punitive damages.
- In August 2017, a jury awarded Eva Echeverria $417 million. She was dying from stage 4 ovarian cancer after daily use of baby powder from the 1950s through 2016. The verdict included $340 million in punitive damages and $68 million in compensatory damages.
Plaintiffs who filed talcum powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson for mesothelioma also received large settlements from jury verdicts.
- In the year 2018, Stephen Lanzo was awarded a whopping $80 million in punitive damages and an additional $37 million in the form of compensatory damages.
In his lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, he claimed that he contracted mesothelioma due to the extensive use of talc powder products containing asbestos.
Johnson & Johnson, however, had a different notion. The company argued that Lanzo could have been exposed to asbestos in his childhood at either his home or school and that these locations were to blame for his mesothelioma. However, the jury did not agree and gave Lanzo and his wife a jaw-dropping award of $117 million.
- In May 2018, a jury awarded Joanne Anderson $25.7 million after concluding that her mesothelioma resulted from her frequent use of talcum powder.
She was awarded $4 million in punitive damages and $21.7 million in compensatory damages. In this lawsuit, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay two-thirds of the $25.7 million, while Imerys, Honeywell and other suppliers of talc would pay the other third of the award.
The First Talcum Powder Lawsuit
Diane Berg filed the first talcum powder lawsuit in 2009. She is a physician assistant from Sioux Falls, South Dakota who, in 2006, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 49. She sprinkled the cosmetic powder on her underwear for most of her life to get rid of “bad smells.”
Because there was no warning about any possible risk of cancer from long-term exposure on the label, she did not have any idea that the product could be so dangerous.
Berg filed a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, blaming the company for fraud and gross negligence.
In 2013, the pharmaceutical giant approached her and offered an out-of-court settlement of $1.3 million if she would settle the case and drop all of the accusations. However, she decided to refuse the offer when she heard that she would have to sign a confidentiality clause.
In an interview, Berg said that suing the company was never about the money and that’s what she cared most about was making sure that people around the world were warned about how dangerous Johnson’s Baby Powder was.
Curiously, Berg did not receive any financial compensation for any damage that she sustained. However, the association between talcum powder and cancer was confirmed by the South Dakota jury.
Two St. Louis judges, however, did order Johnson & Johnson to pay a total of $127 million in damages to two other families. In one of the two sentences, the company was found guilty of negligence, conspiracy and also the failure to caution women of the increased risk of cancer linked with the use of the talc in the genital area.
Still, the shocking verdict came not because of the “talcum = ovarian cancer” equation, but it, in fact, rested on a far more important assumption. Johnson & Johnson was eventually found guilty of the accusations against it due to the fact that it purposely concealed critical information about the safety of talcum for over 40 years.
CBS News reported that the lawyers of one of the women who died as a result of using the powder for many years, Jackie Fox, provided an important document to the court. In this internal correspondence, it was suggested by a medical consultant that the company could damage its own image by denying the possible risks.
The jury just confirmed that Johnson & Johnson did have some knowledge, but decided against warning the public about it and that in itself is a crime.
It is quite unclear as to how much this knowledge can be regarded as a real association between talcum and cancer. On the other hand, Johnson & Johnson decided to appeal the decision of the court and fight back to clear its reputation.
In all of the lawsuits that have been filed against it where the jury was in favor of the plaintiff, the pharmaceutical company has said that it will appeal the decision.
Why Are People Filing Talcum Powder Lawsuits?
Due to big-money verdicts against Johnson & Johnson, talc products have become major news in recent times. At the heart of cases involving talcum products are women who contracted ovarian cancer after they used products such as Shower to Shower Body talc and Johnson’s Baby Powder on a regular basis for a number of years – in some cases, decades.
There are disputes about the scientific link between ovarian cancer and the use of talcum powder, and the Food and Drug Administration of the US deems all cosmetic-grade talc safe.
However, as mentioned earlier, internal records have shown that Johnson & Johnson knew about the potential link between the use of talcum powder in the genital area and cancer for more than 40 years.
Instead of informing consumers about the possible connection between the two, however, the pharmaceutical giant refused to add a warning to the packaging of the talc product or change its formula to use ingredients that are safer, like cornstarch.
Now, there are thousands of women across the U.S. filing lawsuits against the corporation with claims that the company had a duty to inform them about an increased risk of cancer when using talc near or on their genital area.
Get the Right Lawyer for Your Talcum Powder Lawsuit
If you have developed ovarian cancer or mesothelioma as a result of using talcum powder, it is important that you seek expert legal assistance immediately. You should consult a lawyer who has experience in dealing with talcum powder lawsuits.
Lawsuits against large corporations like Johnson & Johnson can be a long and arduous task as they have a team of highly-paid, skilled lawyers who will use all their knowledge and resources to try and make sure that your claim does not go before a jury.
You will need a lawyer who can protect your rights and has the resources to make sure that your case is heard and that you get a fair trial for the injury and damages you have sustained as a result of using the company’s product.
If you or a loved one has ovarian cancer or mesothelioma due to long-term use of talcum powder, you should immediately consult a product liability lawyer with experience in handling lawsuits involving talcum powder.
When you work with a lawyer who understands the talcum powder litigation, you have a greater chance of receiving a favorable settlement or verdict.
You should consult a talcum powder lawyer soon after your diagnosis. Keep in mind that deadlines and statutes of limitations differ from state to state, and if you wait too long to file a claim, you could miss out.
To contact a talcum powder lawyer for a free confidential lawsuit evaluation, please fill out the form below.