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Myth Or Reality: Report Claims Johnson & Johnson Talc Causes Cancer

A recent report published in Fox Business on May 5, 2017, following a lawsuit, said that the baby powder, Johnson & Johnson, has been hit with a multimillion-dollar jury verdict for the fourth time over whether the talc causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder was launched in 1894 in the United States. Talc is the softest of the minerals that are crushed into a white powder and mined from deposits around the world, including the US. It’s been widely used in cosmetics and personal care products. The basic function of the talc is to absorb moisture. Check out the complete report!

Myth versus reality

But the recent claim made by cancer patients has caused panic across the talc users. And as the news spread, the market for the talc may shrink. Given these allegations, we will look into the details, including the number of cases, losses incurred by the company, the reaction of investors, research studies on the subject and some expert comments on the issue. Let’s take a look.

The lawsuit against J&J over allegations of causing cancer.

On May 4, 2017, a St. Louis jury awarded USD 110.5 million to Lois Slemp, aged 62, of Wise, Virginia, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. Slemp blamed her illness on her use of the company's talcum powder containing products for more than 40 years.                                                            Apart from this case, three other jury trials in St. Louis reached similar outcomes in 2016, awarding the plaintiffs USD 72 million, USD 70.1 million and USD 55 million, for a combined total of USD 307.6 million. However, the company has come forward to its defence  saying that its product is safe. Johnson & Johnson plans to appeal the latest verdict, while it already has three others.

J&J wins a few cases.

Given the previous legal victories, one in March this year, does Johnson & Johnson contemplate winning a second chance? In March 2017, a St. Louis jury rejected the claims of a Tennessee woman with ovarian and uterine cancer. In addition, two other cases in New Jersey were thrown out by a judge on the pretext of lack of credible evidence. The judge, while rejecting the claim, said, "the plaintiffs' lawyers hadn't presented reliable evidence that talc leads to ovarian cancer.”                                         There are trials lined up. One baby powder trial is in June in St. Louis and another in July in California.

Johnson & Johnson healthcare products.

Following these charges, the shares of the company fell. However, the Investors don't seem worried that J&J is in financial trouble, despite 2,000 lawsuits faced by the company. J&J shares fell 62 cents to USD 123.10 in late-afternoon trading on May 5, 2017.                                                                Fox reported, “Johnson & Johnson, which is the world's biggest maker of health care products, brings in about USD 72 billion a year selling prescription drugs, medical devices, diagnostic equipment and consumer products ranging from baby shampoo and Aveeno skin care items to Tylenol pain reliever and Band-Aids. Because of its size and diversified product lines, J&J is frequently sued, and investors don't panic when it loses product liability lawsuits, so its stock price rarely drops much after losses. Also, the company clearly intends to keep fighting lawsuits alleging its iconic baby powder isn't safe, rather than settling suits at this point.”

How true are the charges?

There is ambiguity over the final answer on the question whether the talc causes cancer or not? There seems no definitive answer. Finding the actual cause of cancer is difficult. To think of conducting an experimental study would amount to being unethical. For instance, asking a group of women to use talcum powder on their genitals and wait to see if it causes cancer, and compare the results with those who didn't use it would be unethical.

Ovarian cancer is fatal but rare!

Undoubtedly, ovarian cancer is often fatal, but it is relatively rare. Of the 1.7 million new cases of cancer in the United States this year, only 22,400 reported ovarian cancer. 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. 

Does talc really causes cancer?

According to research studies, there has been found no link between talcum powder applied to the genitals and ovarian cancer. However, at least two dozen smaller studies over the last 30 years have found a modest connection — a 20 percent to 40 percent increased risk among talc users.                                                                This certainly doesn't mean that the talc causes cancer. There is no proof that talc can travel up the reproductive tract, enter the ovaries and then trigger cancer. Dr. Hal C. Lawrence III, who is the Vice President of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, while rejecting the link between the talc and the disease said, “Lord knows, with the amount of powder that’s been applied to babies’ bottoms, we would've seen something,” if it seriously caused cancer.  

American Cancer Society

According to CBS News report, one large study published in June 2016 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 US studies, the Women's Health Initiative and the Nurses' Health Study, showed no increased risk of ovarian cancer in talc users.W                     The American Cancer Society states on its website, “The risk for any individual woman, if there is one, is probably very small.”