Baby Powder Ovarian Cancer Risk Withheld from Women for Decades: Report

A recent in-depth report details how Johnson & Johnson likely knew as early as 1971 about the link between talcum-based Baby Powder and ovarian cancer, yet continued to encourage women to use it as a feminine hygiene product. 

The special report, published last week Bloomberg Businessweek, comes amid growing awareness about the potential side effects of talcum baby powder when applied to female genital area or inside underwear, with evidence suggesting that the talc contained in the powder may migrate into the fallopian tubes, uterus and ovaries.

Although Johnson’s Baby Powder is most commonly associated with use to prevent diaper rash and maintain smooth skin among infants, for decades Johnson & Johnson has engaged in a marketing strategy that has encouraged adult women to use the product to help maintain “freshness.” As a result of the popularity of Baby Powder use among adult women, Shower-to-Shower brand talcum powder was introduced specifically for this market.

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Talcum powder or talc powder may cause women to develop ovarian cancer.

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Talcum powder products currently carry no ovarian cancer warning, but the first concerns were raised as far back as 1971, when researchers analyzed 13 different ovarian tumors and found particles of talc deeply imbedded in 10 of them. That was followed up by a 1982 study which warned that there was a statistical link between ovarian cancer and the use of talcum powder on women’s genitals.

Johnson & Johnson currently faces about 1,200 Baby Powder lawsuits and Shower-to-Shower powder lawsuits filed on behalf of women nationwide diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and thousands of additional claims are likely to be filed as more and more women and families learn about the potential connection between use of talcum powder and cancer.

In recent weeks, substantial media attention has been focused on what Johnson & Johnson knew and when it knew about the Baby Powder ovarian cancer risk, following a landmark $72 million verdict awarded to the family of a woman who died after using the company’s talcum powder products for years. The jury awarded not only compensatory damages for the family, but punitive damages designed to punish Johnson & Johnson.

Internal company memos and documents presented at trial highlighted how the manufacturer told its own consultants that there was a connection. However, the only warnings provided for women using Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower suggest that users only need to worry about avoiding contact with their eyes, inhaling the powder or applying to areas of broken skin.

If Johnson & Johnson fails to reach Baby Powder settlements for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, they could face a steady stream of jury trials in the coming months and years, with additional cases expected to go before juries later this month and over the summer.

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