California resident Eva Echeverria claims that she developed ovarian cancer after using the company’s talc-based product for feminine hygiene. The verdict marks one of the most substantial sums in the series of talcum powder lawsuit verdicts against J&J.
The Jury panel in California on 21 August 2017 ordered the world’s largest health-care company, Johnson & Johnson, to pay $417 million to a 62-year-old woman with ovarian cancer. The company found liable for failing to warn the woman about the cancer risks of using talcum products. The jury decided to pay Echeverria with $68 million in compensatory damages and $340 million in punitive damages.
It was a great punishment, not because of the more significant dollar amount, but because many people have no idea that there could be a link between cancer and talcum powder. And the company also didn’t warn about the side effects of the talcum powder.
Does Talc Cause Cancer?
Using talc powder in the genital area can increase the chances of developing ovarian cancer in women. The more years a woman uses talc powder, the more likely she is to develop ovarian cancer.
Based on dozens of research studies involving thousands of women, women who have used talcum powder are about 30% more likely to be affected with ovarian cancer than women who have not. The results of the studies mean that over her lifetime, a woman who uses talcum powder increases her chances of developing ovarian cancer from 1.3% to 1.7%. That is still a low risk for women on a larger scale, but if one million women use talcum powder, nearly 17,000 more of the women who have used talcum powder in their lifetime may develop ovarian cancer.
What Do Expert Agencies Say?
There are lots of agencies that study substances to determine if they can cause cancer.
A reputable agency, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies talc that contains asbestos as “carcinogenic to humans” & inhaled talc not containing asbestos as “not classifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans.” Due to a lack of studies, IARC classifies the genital use of talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
The US National Toxicology Program formed from parts of several different government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has not thoroughly reviewed talc as a possible carcinogen.
What have the courts decided?
Since 2014, Johnson & Johnson has defended its talcum powder in lawsuits brought by families of women who had used their talcum powder products and died from ovarian cancer. In February 2016, the court ruled in favor of the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer at the age of 62 years. Doctors found particles of talc in her ovaries, which they removed after her cancer diagnosis. The court overturned the ruling just a few months later based on jurisdictional issues not related to science.
What Should You Do?
Scientific evidence has shown an important link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer and possibly other health-related risks due to being contaminated with asbestos, and some countries have banned talc. For example, the European Union has banned talc in beauty and health products, so consumers can not purchase talc-based products in certain European countries.