Talcum powder, a seemingly innocuous substance, has been used by women for various personal and household purposes for well over a century. Suddenly, it is now a cause of action by hundreds of plaintiffs who allege a connection between the use of talcum powder and cancer. Why?
It turns out that the connection has been known for decades. In 1982, a study demonstrated a link between ovarian cancer and the genital use of talcum powder. Since then, at least 20 research studies have supported that conclusion. The most recent study, published in a December 2015 issue of the journal Epidemiology, concluded that “estrogen and/or prolactin may play a role via macrophage activity and inflammatory response to talc.” In other words, female hormones interact with white blood cells that are part of the immune system, causing an inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation has long been associated with the development of certain types of cancer.
Despite all of this long-standing evidence, gynecologist Dr. Daniel Cramer MD, a prominent researcher on this issue for over three decades, says that many in the medical profession have been unaware of the connection between cancer and the use of talcum powder. In an interview with Medscape Medical News, he said: “Some clinicians – even some gynecologists – will never have heard of this association...I've had clinicians say to me, 'Talc? Do they still sell it?'”
Indeed they do. Our old friends at Johnson & Johnson – the same company that brought us Risperdal, Invokana, Xarelto, the Pinnacle Hip Replacement , the Power Morcellator and the Prolift pelvic sling – has been marketing its talcum-containing Baby Powder for other uses since 1913, using the line, “Best for the Baby – Best For You.” Starting in the early 1970s, Johnson & Johnson started an aggressive campaign to promote “family usage.” The company has continued this marketing, despite several research studies since the 1980s showing that the product was unsafe – to which J&J's advertising executives responded that the “product is safe when used as it is intended.”
That's exactly what women have been doing – and the result for plaintiffs in pending lawsuits was ovarian cancer. But why are these cases only now being filed? Weren't women just as much at risk 50 years ago?
Possibly. Today, people in general are being exposed to greater amounts of toxins in the home and in the environment, all of which can interact with other substances in household products in ways that medical science is only now beginning to understand. The other part of the equation is that many types of cancer can take years, even decades, to develop and for symptoms to become apparent. An early plaintiff in South Dakota had been using J&J Baby Powder for 30 years before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006.
Today, Johnson & Johnson is a defendant in a class action lawsuit, originally filed in April 2014, which alleges negligence and breach of implied warranty. Plaintiffs also allege that the company failed in its obligation to warn consumers about the potential dangers of its product. This is only the most recent lawsuit the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical giant has had to face over a host of defective drugs and medical devices – and apparently, Johnson & Johnson hasn't yet learned its lesson.
The company will most certainly be paying out tens of millions in damages. Unfortunately, Corporate America all-too-often considers such judgments as part of the “cost of doing business,” and are even able to deduct them from their corporate tax returns. Until lawmakers in Washington D.C. decide to get serious about reining in corporate wrongdoers and inflicting meaningful punishment for the injuries they cause in the name of profits, we can expect more of the same.