Johnson & Johnson Powder Spark Cancer Fear

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Company Coughing US$127 Million In Lawsuits

For the second time in three months, a St. Louis jury, has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a huge award over claims that, its talcum powder, causes cancer to especially females, who apply it around their genital area.

The jury, deliberated for eight hours on Monday, before ordering the company to pay US$55 million to a South Dakota woman, who blamed her ovarian cancer on years of talcum powder use.

Johnson & Johnson, faces at least 1,200 still-pending talcum powder lawsuits, including about 1,000 in St. Louis and 200 in New Jersey.

The product is common on the Ghanaian markets, but it is not clear in Ghana yet, whether the regulator; the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), has been monitoring the situation in America, and has some explanations to give Ghanaians on the health concerns.

In February, another St. Louis jury, awarded US$72 million to the family of an Alabama woman, who died from ovarian cancer, which she said was caused by using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, and other talcum products.

New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson, has indicated it would appeal the latest ruling.

“Unfortunately, the jury’s decision goes against 30 years of studies by medical experts around the world that continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc,” Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said in a statement.

“For over 100 years, Johnson & Johnson has provided consumers with a safe choice for cosmetic powder products and we will continue to work hard to exceed consumer expectations and evolving product preferences.”

But Jim Onder, attorney for the plaintiff, Gloria Ristesund, said researchers began linking talcum powder to ovarian cancer in the 1970s, and that internal Johnson & Johnson documents show the company was aware of those studies.

“The evidence is real clear that Johnson & Johnson has known about the dangers associated with talcum powder for over 30 years,” Onder said. “Instead of giving a warning, what they did was targeted the groups most at risk for developing ovarian cancer,” specifically marketing to
overweight women, blacks and Hispanics, he said.

A spokeswoman for Onder, said Ristesund declined comment.

Talc is naturally occurring, mined from the soil and composed of magnesium, silicon, oxygen, and hydrogen. It’s widely used in cosmetics and personal care products, such as talcum powder, to absorb moisture, prevent caking and improve the product’s feel.

The American Cancer Society, has said that most concerns about a link between talcum powder and cancer focus on two areas: Whether people with long-term exposure to natural talc fibers at work, such as talc miners, are at higher risk of lung cancer; and whether women who apply talc regularly in the genital area have increased risk of ovarian cancer.

The society, on its website, cites the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which classifies genital use of talc-based body powder as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

In February, a St. Louis jury awarded $72 million to the family of Jackie Fox of Birmingham, Alabama. Her son took over as plaintiff after his mother died in October at age 62. She had used the talcum powder for decades.

Johnson & Johnson, faces at least 1,200 still-pending talcum powder lawsuits, including about 1,000 in St. Louis and 200 in New Jersey, Onder said.

Johnson & Johnson, previously has been targeted by health and consumer groups over possible harmful ingredients in items, including its iconic Johnson’s No More Tears baby shampoo.

In May 2009, a coalition of groups, called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, began pushing Johnson & Johnson to eliminate questionable ingredients from its baby and adult personal care products. After three years of petitions, negative publicity and a boycott threat, the company agreed in 2012 to eliminate the ingredients 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, both considered probable human carcinogens, from all products by 2015.

Earlier last week, a St. Louis jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million in damages to the family of a now-deceased Alabama woman who claimed the company’s talcum powder and other products caused her ovarian cancer. While the company has maintained their products are safe, a new study published in the journal Epidemiology suggests otherwise.

Talcum powder is widely used in cosmetic products, such as baby powder and adult body and facial powders. The powder — made from talc, a mineral that consists of the elements magnesium, silicon, and oxygen — is used to absorb moisture and cut down on friction. Some talc contains asbestos, a substance that has been linked to cancers in and around the lungs when inhaled, according to the American Cancer Society.

Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston cited talcum powder has previously been linked to ovarian cancer, namely in cases where the powder has been applied to the genital region. In order to determine if genital talc is a potential carcinogen, or substance capable of causing cancer, researchers recruited 2,041 women with ovarian cancer and 2,100 without the illness and asked them about their talcum powder use. They found that applying the product to genitals, underwear, and sanitary napkins increased the risk of developing ovarian cancer risk by a third.

That said, these risks depend on many different factors, including participant’s weight, menopausal hormone use, and smoking habits.

“This is an easily modified risk factor,” Dr. Daniel Cramer, lead author of the study, told Reuters Health. “Talc is a good drying agent, but women should know that if it’s used repeatedly, it can get into the vagina and into their upper genital tract. And I think if they knew that, they wouldn’t use it.”

Cramer, who first reported a link between talcum powder use on the genitals and ovarian cancer in 1982, has reportedly called for companies to put warning labels on talcum powder in the past. Clearly, those cries have fallen on deaf ears.

Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer and the fifth leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., with 20,000 women being diagnosed with the illness each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It accounts for 3 percent of all cancers in women.

Despite these new findings, some still aren’t convinced talcum powder is linked to ovarian cancer because “this new study was not of the most rigorous possible design,” Dr. Nicolas Wentzensen, head of the clinical epidemiology unit for the National Cancer Institute, told Reuters. Wentzensen was not involved in the study.

He concluded: “While this recent analysis provides additional evidence supporting an association of talc and ovarian cancer, it will be important to test the methods used in this analysis in other data to see if the findings are confirmed.”

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