Talcum Powder Cancer Risk: Historic Lawsuit

In a historic verdict, a St. Louis, Missouri court has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million in damages in a lawsuit centered on its flagship Baby Powder product. Jacqueline Fox used the company’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products for feminine hygiene for over three decades before she developed ovarian cancer. Studies suggest a link between talcum powder products and ovarian cancer. Evidence presented in this lawsuit shows that Johnson & Johnson was aware of these risks since the early 1980s but concealed them from the public. The jury found them liable for fraud, negligence, and conspiracy.

Jacqueline Fox died in October 2015 after a two-and-a-half year battle with cancer, and was not able to see the result of her lawsuit. Her son, Marvin Salter, took over the case, stating that he believed it was what his mother would have wanted.

A South Dakota federal court also found Johnson & Johnson liable for negligence in a similar case in 2013, although no damages were awarded. Approximately 1,200 additional lawsuits regarding talc and talcum powder are now pending. Deanne Berg, the plaintiff in the South Dakota lawsuit, says that she turned down a $1.3 million out-of-court settlement of her case because Johnson & Johnson wanted her to sign a confidentiality agreement. She wanted to make sure that the general public became aware of the risks posed by talc.

Dr. Daniel Cramer, who provided testimony in Ms. Fox’s lawsuit, says that he believes the link between talc and ovarian cancer is persuasive. 20 epidemiological studies have been conducted on the subject, and the majority of them show an increased risk. Traces of talc have also been found in the ovarian tissue of women who have used talcum powder in the genital area. It is believed that talc travels upward into the uterus and the ovaries, causing damage that can eventually lead to cancer.

Johnson & Johnson spokespeople deny that the risk exists and plan to appeal the Missouri verdict. The jury, however, was swayed by internal company documents presented at trial. One memo from a company medical consultant compared the conclusiveness of the risks posed by talc to those posed by smoking. The memo suggested that the company might face a backlash similar to what the tobacco companies experienced once the general public became aware of the truth.

Around 20,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States each year. The survival rate if cancer is diagnosed early is as high as 92%. However, ovarian cancer is rarely diagnosed this early. Overall mortality is over 50%. This late diagnosis is due to a combination of factors. Ovarian cancer has very few symptoms in its early stages and these symptoms, such as bloating, indigestion, and fatigue, are often mistaken for other conditions. There is also no standard screening for this type of cancer, making it difficult to catch it in its early stages. Many women mistakenly believe that PAP tests screen for ovarian cancer, but this is not the case.