Compensation for Victims of Ovarian Cancer Caused by Talcum Powder or Baby Powder

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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According to a comprehensive report from the World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), about 40% of women in the United States use a body powder. Most women who use talcum powder or baby powder do so daily. Women who powder their bodies usually start doing so before the age of 25.

Cancer concerns arise when talcum powder or body powders containing talc come into contact with a woman’s pubic area. That usually happens when powders are applied directly to that area or when the powder is sprinkled into underwear. More than 1,000 women with ovarian cancer have taken legal action against Johnson & Johnson after learning that the company knew about the risks posed by talcum powder but failed to warn consumers that they should avoid genital use of the product.

Talcum Powder, Baby Powder, and Body Powder

Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral found in soapstone and other rocks that are mined in many parts of the world. Among its other uses, talc is the primary ingredient in talcum powder. Because talcum powder absorbs moisture, it is often used to keep skin dry and to prevent rashes. A number of personal care products contain talc, including deodorants, beauty creams, cosmetics, bath powder, and feminine hygiene products. Products that are marketed as talcum powder tend to consist of 99% talc, while products marketed as body powder tend to consist of 65% to 70% talc.

Baby powders are used to prevent diaper rash. Baby powders are usually made of talc or cornstarch. Pediatricians warn that inhaling baby powder can cause acute or chronic lung disease. While many pediatricians caution parents not to use baby powder, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents who do use baby powder to pour a small amount into their hands and apply it carefully, keeping it away from the baby’s face.

When it is mined, talc is often contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen. In 1976, consumer product manufacturers began removing asbestos from the talc that they used in their hygiene and cosmetic products. Studies show that even uncontaminated talc can cause ovarian cancer when talcum powder, baby powder, or any powder that contains talc is used in the pubic region.

Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Research has not produced uniform agreement as to whether talc is carcinogenic. The American Cancer Society, noting mixed study results, advocates further research. Since several studies have found an association between products containing talc and ovarian cancer, the IARC has classified talc as “possibly carcinogenic when applied to genitals.”

Scientists rely on both cohort studies and case-control studies when they evaluate the safety of a potentially toxic substance. A cohort study follows a group of people over time. Researchers determine whether study participants who had contact with a particular substance had different health outcomes than participants who did not have contact with the substance. A cohort study of the relationship between talcum powder and ovarian cancer would ask whether participants who used talcum powder developed ovarian cancer at a significantly higher rate than participants who did not use talcum powder.

A case-control study compares one group of people with a defined characteristic to a control group of people who are similar in all respects other than the defined characteristic. For example, a case-control study might compare a group of women with ovarian cancer to a similar group of women who did not have ovarian cancer. The study would then determine the percentage of women in both groups who used talcum powder in their pubic region. A case-control study might also select a group of women who used talcum powder and a similar group who did not use talcum powder, and compare the incidence of ovarian cancer in both groups.

The most important cohort study involving talcum powder was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2000. The study examined a cohort of 78,630 women. The study tracked their use of talcum powder between 1982 and 1996. During that time, 307 of the women developed ovarian cancer. The study found that the use of talcum powder in the genital area was associated with an increased risk of invasive serous ovarian cancer.

Several case-control studies have reported a link between the genital use of talcum powder and ovarian cancer. The first study compared 215 women who had ovarian cancer to 215 similar women who were cancer-free. The study found that woman who dusted their public regions or sanitary napkins with talcum powder had an elevated risk of ovarian cancer.

While several subsequent studies produced mixed results, they generally suffered from a lack of substantial data. The next significant case control study compared 235 women with ovarian cancer to 239 cancer-free women. The researchers’ findings supported the conclusion that the genital use of talcum powder over a lifetime increased the risk of ovarian cancer. The association between talcum powder and ovarian cancer was also supported by studies in 1997 conducted in Canada and in the State of Washington.

A 1999 study in New England concluded that “there is a significant association between the use of talc in genital hygiene and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer.” The researchers concluded that all of the studies, taken as a whole, warranted formal public health warnings about the risk of using talcum powder in the public region.

The results of several pooled case-control studies were published in 2013. The analysis involved 8,525 women who had ovarian cancer and 9,859 who did not. Data was drawn from the Ovarian Cancer Association Consortium, a group of case-control studies that began in 2005. The analysis of the pooled studies showed a 20% to 30% increased risk of ovarian cancer with genital-powder use.

Compensation for Victims

Johnson & Johnson insists that its talcum powder, baby powder, and other products containing talc are safe for consumers to use. Yet two juries that evaluated the evidence have disagreed. In May 2016, a jury in St. Louis awarded $55 million in damages to a woman who used Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder for more than 35 years before being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The woman’s lawyers produced internal documents showing that Johnson & Johnson knew of studies connecting talc use and ovarian cancer but failed to warn consumers about the potential risk.

In February 2016, another jury awarded $72 million to an Alabama woman after finding that talcum powder was the likely cause of her ovarian cancer. The verdict included $62 million for punitive damages based on the jury’s finding that Johnson & Johnson fraudulently concealed the cancer risk from consumers in order to avoid damaging the sale of its products.

Hundreds of additional lawsuits are pending. If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and have a history of using talcum powder or baby powder, you may be entitled to substantial compensation. If you are the family member of a loved one who died of ovarian cancer after a lifetime of using talcum or baby powder, your family may be entitled to wrongful death compensation. Contact a personal injury law firm that handles toxic product cases for an evaluation of your right to receive compensation.

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