- Deborah Giannecchini claimed baby powder use gave her ovarian cancer
- Her lawsuit claimed the company should attach warnings to the product
- Mrs Giannecchini used talcum powder in an intimate area for many years
- Johnson & Johnson claim their product is safe and will appeal the award
A jury has awarded a woman $70million in damages against Johnson & Johnson after the woman claimed talcum powder caused her ovarian cancer.
Deborah Giannecchini of Modesto, California was diagnosed with the disease in 2012 and accused the company of ‘negligent conduct’ in making and and marketing the baby powder.
The lawsuit claimed Mrs Giannecchini contracted the disease after using baby powder in an intimate area.
Deborah Giannecchini, pictured, of Modesto, California claimed using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder in an intimate fashion over many years led to her developing ovarian cancer
Jim Onder, Mrs Giannecchini’s lawyer, said: ‘We are pleased the jury did the right thing. They once again reaffirmed the need for Johnson & Johnson to warn the public of the ovarian cancer risk associated with its product.’
Carol Goodrich, spokesman for the company said: ‘We deeply sympathize with the women and families impacted by ovarian cancer. We will appeal today’s verdict because we are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder.’
Ovarian cancer accounts for about 22,000 of the 1.7million new cases of cancer expected to be diagnosed in the US this year.
About 2,000 women have filed similar suits, and lawyers are reviewing thousands of other potential cases, most generated by ads touting the two big verdicts out of St. Louis – a $72million award in February to relatives of an Alabama woman who died of ovarian cancer, and a $55million award in May to a South Dakota survivor of the disease.
Deborah Giannecchini of Modesto, California claimed using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder in an intimate fashion over the course of many years led to her developing ovarian cancer
Much research has found no link or a weak one between ovarian cancer and using baby powder for feminine hygiene, and most major health groups have declared talc harmless. Johnson & Johnson, whose baby powder dominates the market, maintains it’s perfectly safe.
But Onder of the Onder Law Firm in suburban St Louis, which represented plaintiffs in all three St Louis cases, cited other research that began connecting talcum powder to ovarian cancer in the 1970s.
He said case studies have indicated that women who regularly use talc on their genital area face up to a 40 per cent higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Onder has accused Johnson & Johnson of marketing toward overweight women, blacks and Hispanics – the very same women most at risk for ovarian cancer, he said.
Factors known to increase a women’s risk of ovarian cancer include age, obesity, use of estrogen therapy after menopause, not having any children, certain genetic mutations and personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies genital use of talc as ‘possibly carcinogenic’. The National Toxicology Program, made up of parts of several different government agencies, has not fully reviewed talc.
Talc is a mineral that is mined from deposits around the world, including the US. The softest of minerals, it’s crushed into a white powder.
It’s been widely used in cosmetics and other personal care products to absorb moisture since at least 1894, when Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder was launched. But it’s mainly used in a variety of other products, including paint and plastics.
The two St Louis verdicts were the first talcum powder cases in which money was awarded. A federal jury in 2013 sided with another South Dakota woman, but it ordered no damages, a spokeswoman for Onder’s firm said.
Johnson & Johnson has been targeted before by health and consumer groups over ingredients in its products, including Johnson’s No More Tears baby shampoo. The company agreed in 2012 to eliminate 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, both considered probable carcinogens, from all products by 2015.
Talc is a mineral that is mined from deposits around the world, including the U.S. The softest of minerals, it’s crushed into a white powder. It’s been widely used in cosmetics and other personal care products to absorb moisture since at least 1894, when Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder was launched. But it’s mainly used in a variety of other products, including paint and plastics.
DOES IT CAUSE OVARIAN CANCER?
Like many questions in science, there’s no definitive answer. Finding the cause of cancer is difficult. It would be unethical to do the best kind of study, asking a group of women to use talcum powder on their genitals and wait to see if it causes cancer, while comparing them to a group who didn’t use it.
While ovarian cancer is often fatal, it’s relatively rare. It accounts for only about 22,000 of the 1.7 million new cases of cancer expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year.
Factors that are known to increase a women’s risk of ovarian cancer include age, obesity, use of estrogen therapy after menopause, not having any children, certain genetic mutations and personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
Large studies have failed to discover any link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, although small ‘look-back’ studies have found a ‘modest connection’
WHAT RESEARCH CAN BE DONE
Two other kinds of research are possible. Neither of them, though, can conclusively prove something causes cancer. One looks back in time, after an illness has occurred. It compares two groups of people, one with the illness, one without, and asks about past exposures that might be factors. But people have trouble remembering details years later.
The second approach follows a large group of people. It assesses their health at the start and follows them for years, recording any illnesses while tracking possible influences such as diet and use of medication, alcohol or other substances. Scientists generally find these ‘prospective’ studies most reliable.
WHAT RESEARCH SHOWS
The biggest prospective studies have found no link between talcum powder applied to the genitals and ovarian cancer. But about two dozen smaller, look-back studies over three decades have mostly found a modest connection — a 20 percent to 40 percent increased risk among talc users.
However, that doesn’t mean talc causes cancer. Several factors make that unlikely and there’s no proof talc, which doesn’t interact with chemicals or cells, can travel up the reproductive tract, enter the ovaries and then trigger cancer.
One large study published in June that followed 51,000 sisters of breast cancer patients found genital talc users had a reduced risk of ovarian cancer, 27 percent lower than in nonusers. An analysis of two huge, long-running U.S. studies, the Women’s Health Initiative and the Nurses’ Health Study, showed no increased risk of ovarian cancer in talc users.
WHAT EXPERTS SAY
If there were a true link, Dr. Hal C. Lawrence III says large studies that tracked women’s health for years would have verified results of the smaller look-back ones.
‘Lord knows, with the amount of powder that’s been applied to babies’ bottoms, we would’ve seen something’ if talc caused cancer, said Lawrence, vice president of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The National Cancer Institute’s Dr. Nicolas Wentzensen says the federal agency’s position is that there’s not a clear connection.
‘It is very hard to establish causal relationships,’ he said, adding, ‘A lot of ovarian cancers occur in women who have never used talc, and many women have used talc and not gotten ovarian cancer.’
Research director Elizabeth Ward of the American Cancer Society says it is unusual to have so much discrepancy between studies. ‘The risk for any individual woman, if there is one, is probably very small,’ Ward said.
WHAT LAWYERS AND COURTS SAY
Like the studies, courts have produced mixed results.
In the first trial two years ago, a South Dakota jury found Johnson & Johnson liable for one woman’s ovarian cancer but didn’t award any damages. This year, state court juries in St. Louis awarded plaintiffs $72 million and $55 million — verdicts the company is appealing.
But U.S. District Judge Nelson Johnson in Atlantic City threw out the first two of the 400 lawsuits in his court. He reviewed the research and testimony from two doctors who are the plaintiffs’ key expert witnesses and concluded the two aren’t reliable, noting they had previously written that there was no proof talc causes ovarian cancer. Other courts approved them as experts, noted the plaintiffs’ attorney, Ted Meadows of Montgomery, Alabama.
J&J attorney John Beisner says the health care giant plans to fight every lawsuit, rather than settle, ‘for the fundamental reason that the science on which they’re based is totally lacking.’
Most of the pending cases are in Missouri, California and New Jersey, where J&J is based.