New Study Bolsters 50,000 Lawsuits Claiming J&J’s Baby Powder Is Linked to Ovarian Cancer

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A groundbreaking study published last week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has revealed a significant link between genital talc use and an increased risk of ovarian cancer. According to the research, this risk is greater for people who used talc powder frequently or for long periods of time.

Conducted as part of the Sister Study cohort, this comprehensive analysis revisits the relationship between intimate care products and cancer, implementing stringent adjustments to minimize biases that may have impacted previous research. The Sister Study is a long-term prospective cohort involving women in the United States, including Puerto Rico, who had a sister diagnosed with breast cancer but were free of breast cancer themselves at the time of enrollment.

Study’s Evidence of Cancer-Talc Link is More Reliable

The new talc study findings indicate a “persistent positive association between genital talc use and ovarian cancer, with the highest risks found among frequent and long-term users.”

Lead study author Katie M. O’Brien, Ph.D., a researcher at the Epidemiology Branch of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, emphasized the robustness of the findings. “Despite challenges in assessing exposure history and biases inherent in retrospective data, our findings are robust, showing a consistent association between genital talc use and ovarian cancer,” O’Brien stated. “This study leverages detailed lifetime exposure histories, and the unique design of the Sister Study, to provide more reliable evidence that supports a potential association between long-term and frequent genital talc use and ovarian cancer.”

To ensure the accuracy of the results, the study employed quantitative bias analysis to address potential reporting errors and analyzed data from a cohort of initially cancer-free women, monitoring their use of intimate care products such as genital talc and douching.

Chris Tisi, of Levin Papantonio and a member of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in the national talc MDL (MDL 2738, In Re: Johnson & Johnson Talcum Powder Products Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation), highlighted the implications of the study. “This study, once again, confirms what we have known from dozens of studies—that there is a consistent association between Johnson’s Baby Powder and ovarian cancer. J&J knew of this risk for decades and it needs to be held to account to the thousands of women and their families who have needlessly developed this disease,” Tisi remarked.

The researchers recommend ongoing examination of the specific chemicals in intimate care products that may influence cancer risk and call for additional studies to replicate these findings across different populations.

What the Study Means for Talc Ovarian Cancer Lawsuits

Talc ovarian cancer lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson (J&J) regarding its talc-based baby powder began in 1999 when a woman claimed that using the product for a lifetime caused her mesothelioma, a rare cancer typically linked to asbestos exposure. In 2009, another woman filed a lawsuit, alleging that J&J’s talc-based products were responsible for her ovarian cancer. Since then, thousands of individuals have filed claims, attributing their ovarian cancer or mesothelioma to asbestos in J&J’s baby powder.

Despite these allegations, J&J maintains that its talc products are safe and denies the presence of asbestos in them. However, this new research may challenge this defense as the legal disputes persist.

“This study is very timely and strongly supports the stance taken by the plaintiffs’ experts,” Leigh O’Dell, co-lead counsel for the group of attorneys representing numerous individuals with cases pending against J&J, told NBC News.

The majority of these lawsuits have been consolidated into a single federal case in New Jersey, with a trial set for December.

J&J’s Attempts to Use Bankruptcy Court to Settle Cases for Pennies on the Dollar

Recently, J&J proposed a settlement of approximately $6.48 billion to resolve the lawsuits, contingent on moving the cases to bankruptcy court and obtaining approval from 75% of the claimants.

J&J has twice attempted to resolve these lawsuits in bankruptcy court, without success. In 2021, the company created a subsidiary to take on the liability for talc-related claims, employing a legal strategy known as the Texas two-step. However, courts have dismissed these bankruptcy filings, ruling that the subsidiary is not financially distressed.

According to LPR Attorney Cameron Stephenson, who is actively involved in the national talc litigation, bankruptcy court is not the place to resolve J&J’s alleged wrongdoings.

“Johnson & Johnson, a $500 billion company, shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind fraudulent shell corporations in bankruptcy. Our legal system is meant to deliver justice, not to help corporations avoid accountability,” Stephenson said. “Johnson & Johnson has harmed and killed women, and although they were eventually compelled to remove the product from the market, they must now be held financially responsible for the lives they have devastated.”

The Dangers of Talc

O’Brien has encouraged women to reconsider their use of talc products, underscoring “there are no medically necessary reasons for using talcum.”

Johnson & Johnson’s current baby powder formulations use cornstarch instead of talc. The company withdrew talc-based versions from the North American market in 2020, citing declining demand and “misinformation around the safety of the product,” and discontinued the product internationally last year.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, talc and asbestos often occur naturally near each other, so mined talc may be contaminated with asbestos.

A 2018 Reuters investigation indicated that J&J was aware of small amounts of asbestos in some of its baby powder as early as the 1970s, a claim that J&J denies.

O’Brien suggested that asbestos might not be the only factor linking talc to cancer. Some talc products may contain phthalates—chemicals known to disrupt hormones and linked to ovarian cancer. Additionally, talc itself can be abrasive and potentially cause inflammation in the areas where it’s applied, which is independently associated with cancer development.