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Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Did Talcum Powder Cause Your Ovarian Cancer?

Doctors have known for decades that talcum powder posed serious dangers to infants. But now, thousands of women say that baby powders can also cause ovarian cancer. These women are filing talc lawsuits – and three juries have already held Johnson & Johnson accountable for failing to warn consumers of the risk. You may be eligible to file suit, too. Call us now to have our team investigate your case.

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Used as a feminine hygiene aid for decades, Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower To Shower talcum powder products have been linked to an increased risk for ovarian cancer – spurring a wave of personal injury lawsuits.

Talcum Powder Lawsuit: Are You Eligible?

Thousands of women have now filed talc lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, claiming the company failed to warn patients of the popular product’s potential risks. Two major Missouri talcum powder ovarian cancer lawsuits have already ended in huge jury verdicts. To date, cancer patients and surviving loved ones have been awarded more than $120 million in compensation, money that will go to cover past and future medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

Legal experts say many other women may be eligible to file suit. If you or a loved one developed ovarian cancer after using talc powder as a feminine hygiene product, we strongly urge you to contact an experienced product liability attorney immediately.

Baby Powder Linked To Cancer

Researchers have been turning out evidence of the association between talc-based body powders and an elevated risk for cancer since at least 1971. While some of this research has produced conflicting results, most studies have found that talcum powders, when applied to the vaginal area repeatedly, make women more likely to develop ovarian cancer.

But this research, and any liability that would devolve to the manufacturers of talcum powders, has only come to a head recently.

In First Talc Lawsuit, J&J Found Liable For Failure To Warn

The first baby powder lawsuit was filed in 2013, by a courageous woman from South Dakota named Deane Berg. Berg had been using Johnson’s Baby Powder on a daily basis for more than 30 years before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006.

After learning that talcum powder had been linked to her disease for years – but Johnson & Johnson had never put a warning on the product – Berg was furious and confused. Even though she had spent 25 years as a physician’s assistant, Berg was shocked to discover that medical researchers had ever linked her “daily ritual” to the deadly tumor now ravaging her body. The warnings of scientific experts, after all, are usually confined to the pages of specialized journals.

“Why Aren’t They Warning Women?”

“Why aren’t they warning women about [this]?” Berg remembered thinking in an interview with FairWarning.org. After reading up on the medical literature, Berg decided that baby powder manufacturers could have warned women earlier. Not only that, she decided that they should have warned women earlier.

In 2013, after battling through multiple rounds of chemotherapy, Berg filed what would become the first talcum powder cancer lawsuit, marshaling her own evidence that Johnson & Johnson was aware of the product’s dangers – but did little to avert a public health crisis.

Talc “Embedded” In Ovarian Cancer Tumors

During the course of her lawsuit, Berg had cancerous tumors removed from her body and inspected by a team of three independent medical experts. Each expert discovered particles of talc embedded in the tumors. The doctors agreed, telling a jury in South Dakota that Berg’s cancer had been caused by vaginal exposure to Johnson’s Baby Powder.

After months of litigation, a South Dakota jury found Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest manufacturer of baby powders, liable for failing to warn Berg of baby powder’s potential cancer risks. But in an odd turn of events, the jury failed to award Berg any damages. South Dakota, as Berg noted in a piece for the New York Post, is a highly-conservative state. To award any damages to a plaintiff, a jury in the state must support doing so unanimously. Later, Berg would tell reporters that she turned down a $1 million settlement from the multi-national conglomerate, choosing to “blow the whistle” instead.

She doesn’t consider her lawsuit a failure, though, since it paved the way for thousands of other women to pursue justice in their own cases.

Huge Talcum Powder Verdicts In Missouri

That’s exactly what happened. In the three years following Berg’s case, thousands of other ovarian cancer patients have filed their own talc lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. The vast majority of these cases have yet to reach trial or settlement. But two talc lawsuits have gone to court, and in both cases, state juries have found in favor of ovarian cancer patients.

In February 2016, a jury in St. Louis, Missouri ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million in damages to the family of a woman who died of ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products for years. One month later, a second Missouri jury came to a strikingly similar conclusion. In March, a jury awarded a woman with stage III ovarian cancer $55 million, holding Johnson & Johnson liable for failing to warn consumers of the product’s potential risks.

Today, thousands of talc lawsuits await their turn to be heard in court, and attorneys close to the litigation believe thousands of other women may be entitled to compensation.

No More Asbestos In Talc, But Cancer Concerns Continue

Talcum powders have been a mainstay in the hygiene routines of American women since the turn of the 20th century. Talc, the world’s softest mineral, was first suggested as a personal care product in 1890, when a chemist at Johnson & Johnson noticed that a powdered formulation could clear up skin irritation, according to Vault Career Library.

Families soon found another use for the product, drying their children’s diaper rash. A retail version, branded as Johnson’s Baby Powder, quickly hit store shelves. Shortly after, women began using the powder for feminine hygiene, starting a trend that has lasted up to today.

But the talcum powder used now isn’t the same as it was in the early 1900s. As a mineral, talc must be mined from the earth, and it just so happens that asbestos ores are often found in close proximity to talc deposits. Many of the talcum powders sold in the US were thus contaminated with asbestos, a mineral now known to cause various forms of cancer. When researchers proved that asbestos could cause cancer, particularly an aggressive form of lung cancer called mesothelioma, manufacturers worked quickly to ensure their talc-containing products were free of the dangerous mineral, instituting new quality controls for the mining industry, and new ingredient screening measures in their own production facilities.

Some companies stopped using talcum powder entirely, switching to cornstarch, while others, including Johnson & Johnson, continued using asbestos-free talc.

Talcum Powder & Ovarian Cancer

Due to the products’ widespread use, however, questions remained. Researchers theorized that, if a woman applied talcum powder to her genitals, it was conceivable that particles of the mineral could travel through the vagina to the ovaries, potentially irritating the organs.

The first evidence of such a pathway was produced in 1971, with a paper published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the British Commonwealth. After removing 13 ovarian tumors from living patients, the researchers discovered particles of talc “deeply embedded” in 10 samples. While they drew no definitive conclusions as to whether or not the particles had caused the cancers, they noted that the “close association of talc to the asbestos group of minerals is of interest.”

How High Is The Reported Ovarian Cancer Risk?

Further results would prove even more troubling. In 1982, a group of gynecologists and cancer specialists at Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital compared the rate of talcum powder use among women who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancers and women selected from the general population. Women who routinely used talc, either “as a dusting powder on the perineum or on sanitary napkins,” were more than three times as likely to have developed ovarian tumors. Their study’s publication in the major journal Cancer sparked renewed interest in the potential dangers of talcum powder.

Despite criticizing the study’s results in his interview with the New York Times that year, James Murray, then a public relations officer for Johnson & Johnson, would say: “we agree more study is needed.” More studies did come, and many supported the link between talc and ovarian cancer. In 1992, for example, researchers in Boston returned to the issue, interviewing hundreds of women with ovarian cancer about their historical use of baby powders. Elevated risks were found among women who applied the powders directly to their body on a daily basis.

Talc manufacturers, however, have never warned consumers publicly of the risk, notwithstanding the calls of many public health advocates, including some scientific researchers, to do so. In 1999, gynecologists at Brigham and Women’s ended their study, which found a 60% increase in the rate of ovarian cancer among women who used talc in their genital areas, with a caution rarely heard in the halls of academia:

“We conclude that there is a significant association between the use of talc in genital hygiene and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer that, when viewed in perspective of published data on this association, warrants more formal public health warnings.”

Despite more than 45 years of research on the subject, women across the country are still stunned to learn that talcum powder, a product many use every day, has been connected to a condition as devastating as cancer.

2,000 Talc Lawsuits Filed

While Berg may have been deprived of compensation, her case, the first of its kind, opened the door for hundreds of other women.

Today, nearly 2,000 cancer patients and surviving family members have brought legal claims against Johnson & Johnson, alleging that the company should have done more to protect them. Numerous families have also filed suit, pursuing justice in memory of their departed loved ones.

Most of their cases are pending in a Missouri federal court, while others have been filed in New Jersey, where Johnson & Johnson is headquartered.

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David Petrone
Date Published: July 14, 2022
David Petrone is a personal injury attorney at Justice Guardians.
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