On May 2, Johnson & Johnson was ordered by a U.S. jury to pay $55 million to a woman who had alleged the company’s talcum-powder products, which she had used for feminine hygiene, caused her ovarian cancer. It is the 2nd straight time the company lost a verdict.
Johnson & Johnson is currently facing about 1,200 lawsuits accusing it of failing to warn consumers about the cancer risks associated with its talc-based products.
The first time the healthcare products company lost a verdict was in February, when a jury ordered J&J to pay $72 million in damages to the family of an Alabama woman who died from ovarian cancer allegedly caused by using Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and other projects that contained talc for feminine hygiene.
In the current case, jurors deliberated for about a day following a 3-week trial in Missouri state court. They decided to award the plaintiff, Gloria Ristesund, $5 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.
The company plans to appeal, said Carol Goodrich, a Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman, and will continue to defend its talc-containing products.
Ristesund testified that she had used Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based products on her genitals for decades. Her lawyers stated that Ristesund was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had to undergo a hysterectomy and related surgeries. Fortunately, her cancer is now in remission. 
The latest verdict is more significant because it appeared that the facts backed Johnson & Johnson’s claims that its talc-based products did not cause Ristesund’s cancer. Evidence in the case showed Ristesund had suffered from endometriosis and was overweight, both conditions that have been linked to ovarian cancer. Furthermore, Ristesund’s cancer has not returned since undergoing surgery in 2011. Jurors are sometimes more sympathetic towards victims who are terminally ill, or who have died.
The 9 women and 3 men on the jury found Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Cos., Inc, guilty of negligence and failure to warn about the risks of using talc-based products on the genitals for personal hygiene. However, the jury dismissed an additional claim that the companies had conspired to provide misleading scientific and medical information. J&J’s co-defendant and talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, Inc., was absolved of liability, as it also was in the 1st case. 
One jury in the $55 million case stated that Johnson & Johnson’s internal memos “pretty much sealed my opinion.” He added:
“They tried to cover up and influence the boards that regulate cosmetics. They could have at least put a warning label on the box but they didn’t. They did nothing.”
A Little Bit About Talc
Talc is a mineral mined in China that is composed of magnesium and silicon. It has long been associated with lung cancer in workers who mine the substance, but it’s not clear if talc itself causes lung cancer. This is because pure talc sometimes contains asbestos, as the 2 are mined in close proximity of each other.
As a powder, talc effectively absorbs moisture and reduces friction. Women often apply talcum powder to their genitals and to sanitary pads for these reasons. A 2016 study published in Epidemiology showed a correlation between increased risk of ovarian cancer in women who regularly used talc-based powder on their genitals.
For that study, researchers asked 2,041 women with ovarian cancer and 2,100 similar women without ovarian cancer about their talcum powder use. Those who said they regularly applied talc to the genital area, feminine products, and underwear were at 33% increased risk of ovarian cancer. However, the women who used talc were also “more likely to be older, heavier, asthma sufferers, and regular analgesic users.”
The link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer dates back to 1960’s, with the first case–control study finding a link in 1982. This was when research author Dr. Cramer, head of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Epidemiology Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, uncovered the link and called for warning labels on talc products. Numerous studies suggesting a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer followed.
The Huffington Post reports:
“In 1971 study conducted conducted by Dr. W.J. Henderson and others in Cardiff, Wales, suggested an association between talc and ovarian cancer.
- In 1982, the first epidemiologic study was performed on talc powder use in the female genital area. Conducted by Dr. Daniel Cramer and others, the study found a 92% increased risk in ovarian cancer with women who reported genital talc use.
- Since then, there have been approximately 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.
In 1993, the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) published a study on the toxicity of non-asbestiform talc and found clear evidence of carcinogenic activity. Talc was found to be a carcinogen, with or without the presence of asbestos-like fibers.”
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.