A Scientific Update: Ovarian Cancer And “Tainted Talc”

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On the heels of Johnson & Johnson’s latest defense verdict in a talc ovarian cancer case in St. Louis City in December 2019 – the fourth consecutive verdict in its favor – comes another study that supports Johnson & Johnson’s long held position. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the article entitled Association of Powder Use in the Genital Area With Risk of Ovarian Cancer found no statistically significant association between the use of powder in the genital area and incident ovarian cancer.

The study examined data pooled from four previous studies and included 252,745 women of whom 38% self-reported using powder in the genital area. Of the pooled women, 2,168 developed ovarian cancer during a median of 11.2 years of follow-up, which amounted to 58 cases/100,000 person-years. Among women who had ever used powder in the genital area, the incidence of ovarian cancer was 61 cases/100,000 person-years while women that reported never using powder in the genital area had an incidence of 55 cases/100,000 person-years.

The analysis showed a 1.08 hazard ratio for the association between self-reported ever use of powder in the genital area versus never use and incident ovarian cancer. Though the authors found no significant association between powder use and incident ovarian cancer, they included a caveat that the study could have been underpowered to identify a small increase in risk.

Assuredly, expert witnesses in talc/ovarian cancer litigation will continue to disagree on whether talc causes ovarian cancer, the extent asbestos or other contaminants are present in talc-containing products, and whether those contaminants cause ovarian cancer. While defense experts will cite to the overall findings of this latest study, plaintiffs’ experts are sure to highlight the caveat that the study was underpowered. Nonetheless, this latest study again calls into question the claim that powder use in the genital area causes ovarian cancer.

Looking ahead, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced a public forum to discuss and obtain scientific information on testing for asbestos in talc-based cosmetics. The FDA sees this as an opportunity to gain knowledge and support the development of standardized testing for asbestos and other mineral particles of concern rather than reach any decision or position about talc products at the meeting.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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