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Talcum Powder Ovarian Cancer Trial Underway in St. Louis

Feb 8, 2016

Johnson & Johnson (J&J), the world's largest pharmaceutical and medical device maker is facing claims that its world famous baby powder causes ovarian cancer in women.

A trial underway in Saint Louis, Missouri state court alleges that Johnson & Johnson baby powder was responsible for the ovarian cancer that killed a woman last year, the Legal Examiner reports. The lawsuit alleges that J&J knew of the cancer risk but failed to warn customers.

Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral made up mainly of the elements magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. The powder absorbs moisture well and helps cut down on friction, making it useful for keeping skin dry and helping to prevent rashes. Talcum powder is used to prevent or treat diaper rash in babies. Talcum powder is part of personal hygiene and cosmetic products, and many women use body powder, such as Shower to Shower daily. Talcum powder is generally recognized as safe, but lawsuits allege it may cause life-threatening ovarian cancer when used for feminine hygiene.

The plaintiffs allege that J&J internal documents will show the company knew of studies connecting talc use and ovarian cancer but J&J continued to market talcum, particularly to African-American and Hispanic women. J&J claims the woman's family cannot prove talc caused her ovarian cancer and that a warning label would not have stopped her from using it. The family is not claiming that talc was the sole cause of the ovarian cancer, but that it was a contributing factor. The plaintiff does not have to prove that talc is the only cause for J&J to be held liable, the Legal Examiner explains.

J&J marketed Shower to Shower brand talcum powder for feminine hygiene. A1988 ad promised, "Just a sprinkle a day keeps odor away." About six months before she died, the plaintiff said in a deposition that she was "raised on" Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc and used it daily until she was diagnosed with cancer.

In the 1970s researchers began to see a link between talc and ovarian cancer. Dr. Daniel Cramer, a doctor at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, observed in 1982 that women who reported using talc in the genital area had a 92 percent increase in the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Several studies have confirmed that talc applied to the genital area may travel through the vagina and into the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. In June 2013, a study in the medical journal Cancer Prevention Research found that women who used talcum body powder as a feminine hygiene product may face a 20 percent to 30 percent greater risk of ovarian cancer compared to those who do not use talc. In a new study in Epidemiology, Cramer says that talc was associated with a 33 percent rise in the risk of ovarian cancer, and the risk increased the longer talc was used, according to the Legal Examiner.

In 1999, the American Cancer Society advised women to use corn starch-based products rather than talc in the genital area.

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