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Shezad Malik MD JD
Shezad Malik MD JD
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Johnson & Johnson Talcum Baby Powder Cancer Bombshell

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Hot on the heels of a record $72 million verdict by Jacqueline Fox against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) over the talcum powder’s risk of causing ovarian cancer, comes another expose in Bloomberg News.

Johnson Talcum Powder attorneyFox died from ovarian cancer in October 2015. In February 2015, a jury in St. Louis found that talcum powder contributed to the development of the disease and that J&J was liable for negligence, conspiracy, and failure to warn women of the potential risk of using talc Baby Powder in the genital area.

J&J Exposed to Thousands of Lawsuits and Billions in Settlements

Since 2013, J&J has spent more than $5 billion to settle legal claims over its drugs and medical devices.

In 2013, J&J the world’s largest pharmaceutical and medical device company, agreed to pay $2.2 billion fine to the U.S. to settle criminal and civil investigations that it illegally marketed Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug, to children and the elderly.

J&J has also agreed to pay over $2.8 billion to settle lawsuits about its DePuy line of metal on metal artificial hips and has salted away billions in anticipation of settling defective and hazardous vaginal-mesh and bladder sling inserts, uncontrollable bleeding lawsuits from blood thinner, Xarelto and abnormal breast growth, gynecomastia, in boys from Risperdal. In its 2015 annual report, J&J noted that more than 75,000 people had filed product liability claims, and that didn’t include the talc powder cases.

Talc Baby Powder Lawsuits

Over 1,200 women and their families are suing J&J and Imerys (talc supplier), alleging that the companies have known of the link between talc and ovarian cancer for years and failed to warn them. The next trial is set to begin on April 11 in a St. Louis circuit court.

What is Talc?

Talc is the earth’s softest mineral, and absorbs odors and moisture. It is made from magnesium, silicon, and oxygen and is mined.

Medical Evidence Linking Genital Talc Usage to Cancer

In a 1971 study, British researchers analyzed 13 ovarian tumors and found talc particles “deeply embedded” in 10. This was the first study to raise the possibility that talcum powder could increase the risk of cancer.

In 1982 a study in the journal Cancer by Daniel Cramer, at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, showed the first statistical link between genital talc use and ovarian cancer.

Over the past several years, 20 epidemiological studies have found that long-term perineal or genital  talc use increases the risk of ovarian cancer by about 33 percent. All of the studies that have actually measured frequency and duration, have all shown a statistically significant trend toward more exposure causing more disease.

J&J Denies Any Link Between Talc and Ovarian Cancer

Like the tobacco industry before them, J&J and Imerys, the talc supplier, claim that the statistical associations between use of the powder and ovarian cancer are limited, weak, and based on unreliable data. And if there’s no causation, there’s no reason to add a warning to Baby Powder.

Talc Increases Risk of Ovarian Cancer

The odds of a woman in the U.S. of developing ovarian cancer are 1 in 70. According to epidemiological studies, Talc use is associated with worsening odds, 1 in 53. The risks seem to be higher for invasive serous cancer, which Fox had.

Ovarian cancer is among the most deadly cancers. Some 20,000 women are diagnosed each year, often after the disease has spread. There is no regular screening for ovarian cancer, no known causes, only risk factors. More than 14,000 women die from the disease every year.

J&J “Killer” Smoking Gun Documents

According to Fox’s lawyers, documents from 1986 through 2004 show that J&J company struggled to generate interest in a symbolically important product with no proven health benefits and some suspected health risks.

A 1992 memo outlining “major opportunities and major obstacles” acknowledged that “negative publicity from the health community on talc (inhalation, dust, negative doctor endorsement, cancer linkage) continues.”

J&J Targeted Black and Hispanic Women

The same memo included a recommendation to “investigate ethnic (African-American, Hispanic) opportunities to grow the franchise,” noting that these women accounted for a high proportion of sales.

Baby Powder is a legacy brand in the black community. Marvin Salter, Fox’s son, hadn’t been aware of the marketing documents until the trial. “When I heard about it, I was infuriated,” he says. “And so was the jury.”

Imerys Cover Up

Imerys, formerly called Luzenac, primarily sells the mineral for industrial purposes. But until 2006, it denied that talc could be a potential carcinogen. In the late 1990s, according to a Luzenac memo introduced at the trial, executives visited the head of epidemiology at the University of California at Irvine for advice on how “to stop the rumor about Ovarian cancer.”

In 2000 scientists with the National Toxicology Program, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, voted 13-2 to list talc, used perineally, as a possible human carcinogen, according to Fox’s lawyers, but the companies persuaded the NTP to defer an official decision on the status of talc.

In 2006, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the WHO cancer agency, declared that perineal use of cosmetic-grade talc was possibly carcinogenic. It cited “a modest, but unusually consistent, excess in risk” and also noted that bias in the studies couldn’t be ruled out.

The same year, Luzenac stopped backing studies to prove talc’s safety because the “horse has already left the barn,” wrote one executive, noting that cosmetic companies had also cut funding.

Luzenac also added a warning on the safety data sheet included with the 2,000-pound bags of talc it delivers to J&J: Perineal use of the powder is a possible risk factor for ovarian cancer.

Next Talc Ovarian Cancer Trial Set for April 2016

Gloria Ristesund’s trial is set for April. Ristesund used Baby Powder for 40 years and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011.

Tenesha Farrar, who was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2013 is also set for trial this year. Farrar, who’s 40 and black, says she’d used Baby Powder and Shower to Shower (which J&J sold to Valeant in 2012) for the last two decades.

“My grandmother and mother used it, and I learned from them,” she says. After hearing about the J&J marketing document, she began crying. “I can’t believe they singled us out.” Farrar had chemotherapy and a full hysterectomy. She had to take off five months from her work as a clerk in a dialysis clinic outside St. Louis. She lost her health insurance because she exceeded the policy limits and had to skip her last chemo treatment.