Pharmaceutical

The origins of the talc ovarian cancer lawsuits

talc justice The origins of the talc ovarian cancer lawsuitsThis week Full Measure interviewed the first ovarian cancer victim to sue Johnson and Johnson over the company’s talc products’ alleged link to this devastating cancer, Deane Berg. A physician’s assistant when diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 49, Berg researched the disease and was shocked to discover studies linking ovarian cancer to talc, which she had been using for feminine hygiene since she was 16.

“Sometimes it was baby powder. Other times it was the Shower to Shower, because that came out and it was specifically for women. ‘A sprinkle a day keeps the odor away,’” she said, quoting the Johnson and Johnson TV ad. “And so I just thought it was perfectly safe to use and they were marketing it quite a bit.”

When she began asking questions, further research was done on her pathology reports and talcum was definitely found in her ovaries. Full Measure also interviewed Dr. Daniel Cramer who testified as a medical expert in Berg’s trial and in all four of the talc cases that have gone to trial since.

He explained that talc is an inflammatory agent; when it gets into womens’ reproductive tract, reaching the pelvic cavity, it triggers the cancer process. Dr. Cramer, a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Harvard Medical School, published the first study in 1982 finding a statistical link between talc and ovarian cancer.

“It has taken 25 years of additional literature I believe to make the case, but I believe we were on target in that study and that the subsequent studies have supported there is an elevated risk. We reported that the risk might be as high as a two-fold increase in risk if they had more than, say, 20 years of talc use,” Dr. Cramer told Full Measure.

In 2013 Berg took Johnson and Johnson to court instead of accepting a $1.3 million settlement offer because she said she wanted to give other women the warning she didn’t receive. She discussed with Full Measure evidence from her trial, in which Johnson and Johnson was found guilty of negligence and failure to warn. Berg said it was significant to her that although there is no warning on Johnson and Johnson’s products that consumers purchase, there is a warning on industrial talc, which was added in 2006. It reads, “perineal [genital] use of talc-based body powder is possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

“The workers who handle the talc are warned about the cancer risk?” the interviewer asked Berg. “Right,” she replied. “But then the women who put it on their bodies are not,” said the interviewer. Berg replied, “Correct. Yes. That was rather shocking.”

The jury that found in favor of Berg in 2013 did not award any damages, but in the four talc trials that have taken place since she opened the floodgate of litigation, three juries found in favor of the plaintiffs and they hit Johnson and Johnson with huge verdicts, $197 million between all three. In the most recent trial, which just ended last week, the jury found in favor of the defendant.

The four trials that took place in the last 13 months were all in St. Louis, Missouri, where more than 1,000 more lawsuits are pending. There are more suits centralized in California and New Jersey as well as a federal multidistrict litigation also in New Jersey.

Neither Johnson and Johnson nor another other defendant in these cases, talc supplier Imerys Talc America, would agree to an interview with Full Measure. Instead Imerys referred the news source to the American Tort Reform Association, a trade group supported in part by the talc industry.

“The American Tort Reform Association does not believe that credible medical and scientific authorities have, in fact, they have not determined a causal link between the use, the cosmetic, external use of talcum powder with ovarian cancer,” said Darren McKinney, their spokesman.

In response, Full Measure stated, “Jurors may have been persuaded otherwise by company documents revealed as evidence in the lawsuits. In 1997, a Johnson and Johnson consultant wrote a scathing letter, telling the company that ‘…9 studies…did show a statistically significant association between hygenic talc use and ovarian cancer’ and ‘anybody who denies this, risks that the talc industry will be perceived…like…the cigarette industry: denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.’”

“Another court exhibit was this 2004 letter from the biggest talc producer to the FDA. It proposed voluntarily phasing-out talc for genital use. It even suggested an FDA warning, saying there was a ‘possible association’ with ‘ovarian cancer,’” Full Measure reported.

You can watch the interview, “Sprinkle of Doubt,” at the link below.

Source: Full Measure