Third Woman With Ovarian Cancer Wins Lawsuit Against Johnson & Johnson Over Baby Powder Safety

A woman won a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, claiming that its baby powder caused her ovarian cancer. 
BY Katie Kosko
PUBLISHED November 03, 2016
A third woman won a lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, alleging that years of using its baby powder caused her ovarian cancer. A jury awarded her more than $70 million.

Deborah Giannecchini of Modesto, California was diagnosed with the cancer in 2012. Her lawsuit accused Johnson & Johnson of “negligent conduct” in the making and marketing of its baby powder. Her trial, which began Sept. 26, was heard in St. Louis where Onder Law Firm, the firm representing her, is located.

Jim Onder, an attorney for Giannecchini, said he is pleased that the jury did the right thing. However, Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal the jury’s verdict, maintaining that its product is safe.

“We are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder,” Carol Goodrich, a spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement. “In fact, two cases pending in New Jersey were dismissed in September 2016 by a state court judge who ruled that plaintiffs’ scientific experts could not adequately support their theories that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer, a decision that highlights the lack of credible scientific evidence behind plaintiffs’ allegations.”

Earlier this year, two other lawsuits in St. Louis ended in jury verdicts worth a combined $127 million. About 2,000 women nationwide have filed similar lawsuits.

What is talc?

Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, which has been used for more than 120 years, contains cosmetic talc. Talc is a naturally occurring mineral made up of the elements magnesium, silicon, oxygen and hydrogen.

In addition to baby powder, talc widely used in cosmetic products such as makeup, deodorant, diaper rash cream, bar soaps, flea and tick powders and even arts and crafts products. Talc absorbs moisture, helps cut down on friction, may prevent the caking of makeup or even make a product feel better. People who have used talcum powder often do so to keep skin dry and help prevent rashes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that talc may be found in close proximity to asbestos in the earth. Therefore, in its natural form, some talc may contain asbestos. Asbestos is a known carcinogen that causes cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled. All talcum products used in homes in the United States have been asbestos-free since the 1970s.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) does not consider talc to be a known carcinogen, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls it a possible carcinogen.

This debate has been going on for decades. Studies examining the specific link between talcum powder use and ovarian cancer have been mixed. In 1971, a study of ovarian cancer patients revealed talc particles in ovarian tissue.

According to the ACS, many case-control studies have found a small increase in risk. The organization also states that these types of studies can be biased because they often rely on a person’s memory of talc use many years earlier. Two prospective cohort studies — which do not have the same potential for bias — have not demonstrated a link to increased risk.

“Studies have been inconclusive at best,” said Stephanie Blank, M.D., Director, Gynecologic Oncology Fellowship at NYU Langone Medical Center in an interview with CURE. “What happens in court does not necessarily reflect science or reality.”

Keeping Yourself Safe

The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) says that while talc is found in many products used in the United States, there are alternatives out there.

“There are a variety of talc-free products on the market that contain safe ingredients like baking soda, clay powders and cornstarch,” said Anitra Hunt, communications and digital marketing manager of the NOCC. “You can even make your own DIY formulas right at home by mixing these items along with essential oils, flours and more.”

More than 22,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, and over 14,000 women die from the disease. Currently, there is no early detection test for ovarian cancer.

The NOCC hopes to educate communities and increase awareness about the symptoms of ovarian cancer, which are often subtle. “Many studies in women have looked at the possible link between talcum powder and cancer of the ovary,” said David Barley, chief executive officer of the NOCC. “Findings have been mixed, and opinions vary. If you have a fear of ovarian cancer due to usage, consult your physician or choose talc-free products as an alternative. We encourage you to be your own best health advocate and consult your physician.”
 
Sources:

Jury awards more than $70M to woman in baby powder lawsuit [news release]. St. Louis: The Associated Press; October 28, 2016. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/3a7a34bd268e404cb431c89f241aab6b/jury-awards-more-70m-woman-baby-powder-lawsuit

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA's authority over cosmetic safety. http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ProductsIngredients/Ingredients/ucm293184.htm

 
The American Cancer Society. Talcum Powder and Cancer. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/talcum-powder-and-cancer
 
National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. Mission & Vision of the NOCC. http://www.ovarian.org/about-us/missionvision
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