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Johnson & Johnson discontinues baby powder products in US as talcum powder's link to ovarian cancer remains

Posted June 18, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

As evidence continues to link talcum-based products to ovarian cancer, Johnson & Johnson discontinued its legacy baby powder products in the U.S. and Canada earlier this year. (LunaSea/Big Stock Photo)

This article was written for our sponsor, Whitley Law Firm.

In 1894, Johnson & Johnson introduced a product made of crushed talc it dubbed "baby powder." For more than a century, people — especially women — used this baby powder as an everyday health and hygiene product.

However, recent evidence has linked this talc-based product (and similar ones from other manufacturers) to ovarian cancer.

In May 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced it would stop selling its legacy baby powder product in the United States and Canada.

The company denied allegations its products are responsible for health problems and, instead, cited the North American decline in demand for talc-based baby powder as the reason for its product halt coupled with "misinformation" around the safety of these products.

"Talcum powder, as it's produced by multiple major manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson, is often used as a hygiene product, especially as part of a woman's daily hygiene routine," said Whitney Butcher, a partner at Whitley Law Firm in Raleigh.

Butcher oversees the firm's dangerous drug and defective devices practice area.

"Talc is a known carcinogen and, unfortunately, there is evidence that links the use of talcum powder in this fashion to dangerous and potentially deadly side effects," Butcher said. "Johnson & Johnson discontinued its sale of these products as the result of the backlash it's received from customers."

Consumer outcries and evidence-based studies have led experts to believe the chronic use of talcum powder can lead to different forms of injury and ailment, including serious side effects like ovarian and uterine cancer, as well as talcosis. Talcosis is a pulmonary disorder caused by talc as a result of the inhalation of talc particles, though this isn't currently being investigated as a potential claim.

Ovarian cancer is being investigated as part of talcum powder litigation.

When a woman uses talcum powder as part of her feminine hygiene routine, it has the potential to exponentially increase the likelihood she will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It is believed talc particles, which contain asbestos, are able to travel to the ovaries and cause inflammation and result in ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is a gynecological cancer that produces cancerous masses that form on the ovaries. In some cases, it is fatal. Treating ovarian cancer may include, but is not limited to, chemotherapy, removal of the ovaries and other treatments.

Several talcum powder injury cases have been filed against manufacturers linking talcum powder usage to cancer. Johnson & Johnson is facing more than 16,000 talc-related lawsuits nationwide.

In July 2018, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay nearly $4.7 billion in damages to 22 women and their families who allege asbestos found in the company's talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. This is the exception, not the rule though, as many of the cases brought against Johnson & Johnson have been reduced or wiped out on appeal.

The link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer is a dose response, meaning an individual who uses talcum powder once or twice may not have a statistically significant increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. However, if they use talcum powder daily for many years, then the risk of developing ovarian cancer increases drastically.

Epidemiologists believe about 10 percent of newly diagnosed ovarian cancer cases (20,000 each year) can be linked to the use of talc.

Dr. Daniel Cramer, an epidemiologist at Harvard, published his first study linking talcum powder to ovarian cancer in 1982. He advised companies to update their product labels with a warning, but this recommendation was not heeded.

"Recent studies show that seven years of consistent talc use leads to double the risk of ovarian cancer, and 20 years of consistent talc use leads to triple the risk of ovarian cancer. That is extremely significant," Butcher said. "Even if the individual survives the cancer, the effects it may have on a person's life could still be drastic and long reaching. We want to help anyone who thinks that their ovarian cancer may be connected to the usage of talcum powder."

In many cases, the evidence used in court to demonstrate the link between talc and ovarian cancer is presented through pathology slides of surgeries that were done on the cancer patient. Cancerous tissue is reviewed with a microscope, where talc particles are often visible.

Butcher said this kind of evidence is very compelling and companies like Johnson & Johnson need to be held accountable.

"Despite warnings and evidence presented by scientists, doctors and experts like Dr. Cramer, nothing was ever done by the company to warn the consuming public that talcum powder could cause ovarian cancer," Butcher said. "It was all about sales and increasing their already tremendous market share of the product. Baby powder was a bestselling product for them that they were afraid to lose."

While Johnson & Johnson has stopped shipping hundreds of talc-based products to the U.S. and Canada after its decision to discontinue them in North America, all existing inventory will continue to be sold through retailers until supplies run out.

The talc-based product will continue to be sold abroad.

If you believe that you or a loved one has been injured by the use of talcum powder, it is recommended that you contact a lawyer immediately. A local injury attorney can help you determine if you might be able to seek damages and compensation for your pain and suffering.

An attorney well-versed in talcum powder cases can review your case and determine if you have grounds to bring a claim.

This article was written for our sponsor, Whitley Law Firm.

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