Link between Talcum Powder and Ovarian Cancer? J&J to Pay $72 Million

A resident of Birmingham, Alabama; Jackie Fox passed away in October 2015 at the age of 62.  She had been battling with ovarian cancer, a condition that was diagnosed in 2012.  Shortly before her death, Jackie recorded an audio deposition, stating that she had used Johnson & Johnson talc powder products for 35 years.  Her deposition gains significance due to the evidence of talc found in her surgically removed ovaries.  Last month, a St. Louis jury awarded $72 million to the family of Jamie Fox – $10 million in compensatory damage and $62 million in a punishment award.  This decision by the jury is the first financial award granted in a lawsuit related to the issue of ovarian cancer caused by the prolonged use of talc powder.

Well, the legal opinion on this subject seems to be out and in favor of the argument that prolonged use of talc powder can cause ovarian cancer.  However, the scientific community is still undecided about the same.  The only consensus among researchers and organizations dealing with cancer research is that talc powder is a “possible” carcinogen.  Research in epidemiologic studies have shown cases of association between the use of talc and ovarian cancer – but, not always.

Dr. Cramer, who testified at the trial as a paid witness, is the lead author of the first study that linked the use of talc to ovarian cancer, way back in 1982.  Involved in multiple studies since then, the latest of which was published a few months ago, Dr. Cramer spoke after the verdict, saying, “I’m still absorbing the news.  A feeling of vindication is tempered by the realization that thousands of women continued to use talc products and died of ovarian cancer after my first study in 1982.  You can count on J&J to appeal the verdict, but the scientific case is only going to get stronger.”

However, not everyone in the scientific and research community agree with Dr. Cramer’s assessment.  According to an essay written in 2014 by Dr. Robert Coleman, MD at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, he makes the analogy that talc powder is the “Pluto” of prognostic factors for ovarian cancer.  In an email to Medscape Medical News, Dr. Coleman explained stating, “When we all grew up, Pluto was a planet (analogy: talc was thought to be a causative risk factor in almost every textbook); then, a few years ago, after better data emerged, Pluto lost its status as planet (analogy: newer and better controlled studies demonstrated that talc exposure is probably not a true risk factor).”  However, he also states that the preponderance of evidence does indicate that there is a link between the use of talc powder in the genital area and increased risk of ovarian cancer.

According to news reports, Johnson & Johnson were found guilty of failing to warn the consumer and conspiring to keep the truth about the possible link away from the public for decades.  The company, however, argues that the talc powder is safe and believes that their claim is supported by decades of scientific evidence.  What is the possible cause of cancer in talc powder?  The possible carcinogenicity of talc is cited as chronic inflammation of the ovarian epithelium, caused due to the contact with talc particles.  Small particles of talc have been shown to migrate from the vagina to the upper pelvic tract.  Talc particles have been found in the ovaries as well as in the pelvic lymph nodes.  In 1971, British surgeons had found 10 out of 13 ovarian and cervical tumors, deeply embedded with talc particles and reported the same in a study.

Reacting to the verdict and the quoted statement in a news report of Carol Goodrich, spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson, Dr Cramer asked, “If you had a modifiable exposure, why wouldn’t you want to advice women about it?”


References

  1. Cramer, D. W., Vitonis, A. F., Terry, K. L., Welch, W. R., & Titus, L. J. (2015, December 17). The association between talc use and ovarian cancer: a retrospective case-control study in two US states. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.journals.lww.com: http://journals.lww.com/epidem/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=9000&issue=00000&article=99086&type=abstract
  2. Mulcahy, N. (2016, February 23). J&J Must Pay $72 Million in Talc Powder-Ovarian Cancer Case. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.medscape.com: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/859275
  3. Mulcahy, N. (2016, February 25). Talc Powder, Ovarian Cancer Link: What is the Evidence? Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.medscape.com: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/859485
  4. Robert L. Coleman, M. (2015, January 01). Talcum Powder the ‘Pluto’ of Prognostic Factors for Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved March 23, 2016, from http://www.ahcmedia.com: http://www.ahcmedia.com/articles/111514-talcum-powder-the-8216-pluto-8217-of-prognostic-factors-for-ovarian-cancer