Talcum Powder Lawsuits Filed as FDA Funds Ovarian Cancer Study

The number of talcum powder lawsuits alleging women developed ovarian cancer after using baby powder for years continues to grow, and now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has agreed to fund a study examining the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. Studies have been conducted concerning the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer. A handful of talcum powder cancer lawsuits that have gone to jury trials have resulted in multi-million dollar awards for the plaintiffs.

FDA to Fund Talcum Powder Ovarian Cancer Study

The FDA’s Office of Women’s Health (OWH) has awarded a grant to researchers investigating the use of talc. Led by Nakissa Sadrieh, researchers will undertake a longer-term investigation of the use of talc in cosmetics, and “early events in genital system tissue transformation.”

The study is  titled “Non-clinical mechanistic studies in addressing ovarian cancer risk from talc use in cosmetics.” Sadrieh notes that there have been epidemiologic and animal studies that investigate the relationship between talc and ovarian cancer, but there has not been enough focus on the effect of talc on the female genital system.

The FDA Office of Women’s Health research grants are given for one-to-two-year studies that assist with FDA regulatory decision-making and that add to scientific literature regarding women’s health.

Talcum Powder Lawsuits Result in Multi-Million Dollar Verdicts

Since talcum powder lawsuits were first filed, juries have handed out awards totaling almost $200 million to plaintiffs. Although two lawsuits were dismissed by a judge (the judge’s ruling excluding expert testimony for the plaintiffs is being appealed) and a third resulted in a jury verdict in favor of Johnson & Johnson, three other lawsuits each resulted in massive awards to the plaintiffs. One talcum powder lawsuit was found in favor of the plaintiff, but resulted in no monetary award.

In 2016, Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $72 million to the family of Jacqueline Fox, who died in the fall of 2015, months before the verdict was reached. Fox alleged in her lawsuit that ovarian cancer she would later die from was caused by her use of Johnson & Johnson's body powder. The award included $10 million in compensatory damages and $62 million in punitive damages.

“They tried to cover up and influence the boards that regulate cosmetics,” juror Jerome Kendrick said. “They could have at least put a warning label on the box but they didn’t. They did nothing.”

Also in 2016, a jury in St. Louis ordered Johnson and Johnson to pay $55 million, including $5 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages, to Gloria Ristesund. Ristesund had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011 and said she used talcum powder for close to 40 years.

In October 2016, a jury awarded $70 million—including $65 million in punitive damages—to Deborah Giannecchini, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012 and has been told she has an 80 percent chance of dying in the next two years.

In all three verdicts, a spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson said the company was disappointed with the decisions and would consider appealing the awards.

Women Continue to File Talcum Powder Lawsuits

According to reports, as of March 2017, Johnson & Johnson faces around 2,500 talcum powder lawsuits, alleging the company knew about the possible link between its body powder and ovarian cancer and did nothing to warn women. More baby powder lawsuits are being filed, including one filed by Andrea Harris in March against Johnson & Johnson and Walgreens.

In her lawsuit, Harris alleges that Johnson & Johnson marketed its baby powder as “the beacon of ‘freshness’ and ‘comfort’,” and marketed its “Shower to Shower” product as safe for use. However, the lawsuit alleges, the first study to suggest an association between talcum powder and ovarian cancer was conducted in 1971. In 1982, the first epidemiology study suggested a 92 percent increased risk of ovarian cancer in women who used talc powder.

“Since 1982, there have been approximately twenty-two (22) additional epidemiologic studies providing data regarding the association of talc and ovarian cancer. Nearly all of these studies have reported an elevated risk for ovarian cancer associated with genital talc use in women,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit includes Walgreens as a defendant because Walgreens reportedly works with Johnson & Johnson to analyze, assess, and strategize the best ways to sell and market baby powder products. The companies knew or should have known that the use of talcum products increased the risk of cancer, the lawsuit alleges.

Harris argues she used baby powder for more than 30 years and used Shower to Shower for around five years. Both products were used in the perineal area. In 2015, Harris was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and has undergone surgery and other treatment.

“Plaintiff purchased the products believing they were safe to use on any external area of her body. Had Plaintiff known the truth about the safety of using Johnson’s® Baby Powder and Shower to Shower, she would not have purchased the products.”

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