The study, which linked talc to ovarian cancer, has implications for J&J

In this photo illustration, a bottle of Johnson & Johnson baby powder is displayed on a table on November 12, 2021 in San Anselmo, California.

Justin Sullivan | beautiful images

New research published this week gives more than 50,000 credence lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson accused baby powder made from talcum powder causing ovarian cancer.

The Analysispublished Wednesday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that applying talcum powder to the genitals is associated with ovarian cancer — and the association was even greater among those who used it. Use talcum powder frequently or for long periods of time.

The researchers are from the National Institutes of Health and their findings are based on data from the Sisters Study, which enrolled more than 50,000 women in the United States between 2003 and 2009. Participants took part when they were between the ages of 35 and 74, and each had a sister diagnosed with breast cancer, which could put them at higher risk of breast or ovarian cancer.

Lawsuits related to J&J talc-based baby powder began in 1999, when a woman alleged that lifelong use of it led to mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer that often causes due to exposure to asbestos – a known carcinogen. In 2009, another woman sued the company, alleging that its talc-based products caused her ovarian cancer. Since then, thousands of others have filed claims for cases of ovarian cancer or Mesothelioma which they say is caused by asbestos in J&J baby powder.

J&J has always stood by the safety of its talc products and denied that they ever contained asbestos. The company also argues that studies have not demonstrated a conclusive link between ovarian cancer and talc-based products.

New research could weaken that line of reasoning as legal battles continue. Most of the lawsuits against J&J have been consolidated into a single federal lawsuit in New Jersey, with a trial scheduled for December.

“This study is quite timely. We feel like it absolutely confirms and confirms the views of the plaintiffs’ experts,” said Leigh O’Dell, principal at the Beasley Allen Law Firm. O’Dell is co-chair of counsel for the plaintiffs’ steering committee, a group of attorneys appointed to act on behalf of various people in pending lawsuits against J&J.

However, Erik Haas, vice president of global litigation at J&J, said the new analysis does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship or implicate a specific cancer-causing agent.

“This study does not change the clear evidence that talcum powder does not cause ovarian cancer,” he said.

In the first day of this month, J&J offers to pay about $6.48 billion to resolve the lawsuits, but the deal would involve moving the cases to bankruptcy court and requiring 75% of plaintiffs to vote in favor.

J&J tried and failed twice settlement of talcum powder lawsuit in bankruptcy court. The company created a subsidiary in 2021 that could be held liable for legal claims related to talc — a legal proceeding known as the Texas two-step procedure. But so far, the court has rejected the bankruptcy application on the grounds that the subsidiary is not in financial difficulty.

O’Dell said her group “wants to see these women come up with a reasonable and fair solution other than bankruptcy.”

“We believe that any attempt to file for bankruptcy again is just another abuse of the bankruptcy system,” she said.

Potential harmful effects of talcum powder products

The new study asked women how often they used talcum powder on their genitals between ages 10 and 13 and in the year before they enrolled in the study. NIH researchers continued to conduct surveys from 2017 to 2019 that asked women about their lifetime use of talcum powder.

Based on responses, researchers estimate that up to 56% of women have used talcum powder on their genitals at some point. These women were more likely to be black, less educated, and to live in the South than those who did not use talcum powder.

This analysis could not prove that talcum powder causes ovarian cancer, nor did it identify which brand or chemical caused the association. Dale Sandler, one of the study’s authors and chief of epidemiology at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said there is probably no way to prove a cause-and-effect relationship in the studies. in humans.

“You can’t do a clinical trial and randomize people into ‘powder’ and ‘no powder’. So we will need to look at other types of studies,” she said.

Katie O’Brien, lead author of the analysis and an epidemiologist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said at the very least, the findings should prompt women to rethink their use of talcum powder products.

“We are not aware of any medically necessary reason why someone would need to use talcum powder,” she said.

Current J&J baby powder formulas use cornstarch, not talcum powder. Company tow talc-based versions from the North American market in 2020, citing weak demand and “misinformation about product safety” and discontinued the product internationally last year.

Talc and asbestos are found close together in nature, so some crude talc collected through mining may asbestos contaminationaccording to the Food and Drug Administration.

ONE Reuters investigation in 2018 suppose, I think J&J knew Some of its baby powders were contaminated with small amounts of asbestos as early as the 1970s. But J&J denies asbestos was ever in its products.

O’Brien said asbestos may not be the only reason for the link between talc and cancer. Some talcum powder products may also contain phthalates – chemicals that disrupt hormones in the body and linked to ovarian cancer. Additionally, talcum powder itself can be abrasive, so it can cause inflammation in the areas where it is applied. Inflammation is independently associated with the development of cancer.

A debate about science

Debates over research linking talc and ovarian cancer will almost certainly be the focus of upcoming litigation in the J&J case.

A New Jersey federal court ruled in March that the company could contest its findings linking ovarian cancer to talcum powder.

To support its point, J&J pointed to research that O’Brien and Sandler published in 2020No statistically significant association was found between ovarian cancer and talc use.

But O’Brien says the older study may not have been set up to detect small changes in risk because it didn’t ask women about lifetime drug use or risk factors that people could remember. wrong with their past habits. Sandler said the new study explains those two variables.

“This newer analysis helps balance the balance by taking into account all the possibilities that may have been underreported in the previous literature,” she said.

How talcum powder can cause body shaming

J&J began selling baby powder made from talc in 1894.

Although many women have used it to keep their genitals intact, says Alexandra Scranton, director of science and research at Women’s Voices for the Earth, a nonprofit organization that aims to eliminate the chemical, They are dry but it is not necessary to use powder to remove moisture from that area. that negatively affects women’s health.

“Moisture in this part of the body is a very healthy thing,” Scranton says. “This part of the body is covered with mucous membrane. It must be moist.”

According to O’Brien’s research, some women in the 2000s – usually those in their 20s and 30s – also used talcum powder on their private areas to create a feeling of cleanliness and reduce odor. That application is also not recommended by medical professionals because the vagina is self-cleaning and the good bacteria inside it naturally produce a mild odor.

Companies like J&J, Scranton says, “have essentially created and promoted this myth that this part of your body — your genitals, your vagina — is inherently dirty and they inherently smell bad, therefore inherently shameful.”

J&J said it disagreed with that characterization.

Some women continue to use talcum powder on their genitals or use new products such as vaginal washes or scented deodorants.

“It’s so ingrained and so much a part of how they take care of their bodies that they can’t imagine not doing it,” Scranton says. “They always have their mother’s voice in their head: ‘This is what you must do to become a respectable woman.'”

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