pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $72
million (51 million Pound) to the family of a woman who claimed her
ovarian cancer was caused by talcum powder.
A jury in St Louis, Missouri, said the company had failed to warn
users of the potential dangers despite concerns raised by the American
Cancer Society in 1999.
Although many talcum powder manufacturers in the US have since
switched to corn starch following the scare in the 90s, in Britain most
still use talcum.
However the ruling is likely to prove controversial because most
cancer experts believe the link is unproven and law experts said British
claimants would face a higher bar in trying to convince a UK judge that
talcum was a direct cause of cancer.
Johnson & Johnson is currently facing 1,200 lawsuits in the US from
customers who claim they were not warned about the risks.
Mrs Fox claimed she used two of the company’s talc-based products -
Baby Powder and Shower to Shower – as feminine hygiene produces for more
than 35 years before being diagnosed three years ago with ovarian
cancer. She died last year of ovarian cancer.
Johnson & Johnson was ordered pay the family of Jackie Fox $10 million
in compensation and $62 million as a punitive award.
Before the 1970s, talcum powder was often contaminated with asbestos
fibres which are known to cause cancer. But since then, all home
products containing talcum powder are legally obliged to be
Some scientists have suggested that talc particles could travel to the
ovaries, irritate them and cause inflammation. Low-level, long-term
inflammation may increase the risk of some types of cancer.
However there is little evidence to support the hypothesis and studies
looking into whether anti-inflammatory drugs could prevent cancer have
shown they are ineffective.
Most studies suggesting a connection were found to be flawed and often
relied on people recalling use of talcum powder many years previously.
Cancer Research UK states on its website: “If something truly causes
cancer, you would expect people who are exposed to more of that thing to
have a higher risk.
“For example, the more you smoke, the higher your risk of lung cancer.
But the majority of the studies have not found a similar relationship
for talc use and ovarian cancer.”
The ovarian cancer charity Ovacome also said: “The evidence for a link
is weak, but even if talc does increase the risk of ovarian cancer
studies suggest it would be by around a third.”
Carol Goodrich, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson, issued a statement
expressing disappointment in the outcome but insisting that the products
“We have no higher responsibility than the health and safety of
consumers and we are disappointed with the outcome of the trial,” the
statement reads. “We sympathise with the plaintiff’s family but firmly
believe the safety of cosmetic talc is supported by decades of