Talcum Powder Lawsuits Prove Strong Cancer Risk

Johnson’s Baby Powder has been a staple in many households for over a century, but recent talcum powder lawsuits against the conglomerate have exposed the cancer risks associated with its use.  

First marketed by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in 1894, Johnson’s Baby Powder became a staple to prevent diaper rash, but other uses for the powder were soon discovered, and it became widespread in many other products marketed to consumers.

Baby powder is known to be an absorbent, light substance, making it ideal for many uses. Besides its use as a baby powder, the company marketed the powder as a feminine hygiene product for women because of its ability to absorb moisture and prevent rashes. It was also formulated for use in cosmetics, deodorants, and dry shampoos. Innovative consumers found it useful for everything from keeping playing cards from sticking together to freshening shoes.

The product contains talc, a soft mineral that is mined, then ground into a powder referred to as talcum or talc. Talc by itself is not known to be harmful. The issue is that it occurs naturally in the ground along with asbestos, which is a known cancer-causing agent.

It has been clearly shown that asbestos causes cancer, including ovarian and lung cancer, mesothelioma, and laryngeal cancer. Because talc and asbestos are mined together, this close link may be the source of cancer risk when using talc products.

Whether talcum powder increases the risk for cancer has been studied and discussed for many years. Recent developments make it more important than ever for consumers to understand the controversy that’s been brewing around talcum powder.

As early as the 1950’s, laboratories found contaminants in talc used by J&J that appeared to be consistent with asbestos, which is often described as fibrous or needle-like. Since that time, studies by several laboratories also showed these impurities.   

Scientists started questioning the relationship between talc and ovarian cancer as early as 1971. In that year a scientific paper reported the results of a study that examined tissue from ovarian tumors. The scientists found talc particles in the tumor tissue, and pointed out the connection between talc and asbestos. Other studies demonstrated the movement of talc particles to the ovaries. This sparked curiosity about the connection with ovarian cancer.

Research from several other studies since then on women with ovarian cancer who used talcum powder has shown everything from no risk to a moderate risk. One study that looked at over 8,000 cases found a risk of ovarian cancer between 20 and 30 percent in women who used talcum powder for feminine hygiene.

The link between talc and asbestos is troubling, but it’s notoriously difficult to prove what may cause a certain type of cancer.

Despite the studies and mounting evidence of the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer, J&J continued to market it, and insisted that its powder did not contain asbestos. However, a recent investigation by Reuters reported that the company may have known their talcum powder was contaminated with cancer-causing asbestos. According to this report, company documents uncovered as a result of talcum powder lawsuits show that from 1971 to the early 2000s, the talc J&J used would sometimes test positive for asbestos.

Internal J&J reports reviewed during this investigation show that most of their testing didn’t show any asbestos, but also noted that J&J’s test methods had limitations when detecting trace amounts of asbestos. In addition, the company tested only a small fraction of its talc.

Other documents uncovered by Reuters show that J&J knew that three tests by different labs between 1972 and 1975 found asbestos at levels that were described as “rather high.” Nevertheless, J&J told the FDA in 1976 that it did not find asbestos in any sample of talc from December 1972 to October 1973.

Further, Reuters uncovered that company officials discussed how to deal with the problem in company documents and reports during the 1970s and 1980s. While they were talking about it, they did not disclose their concerns to consumers or to regulatory agencies.

Over the past few years J&J has been hit with multiple lawsuits alleging that its talc products caused cancer. Juries have awarded over $5 billion to plaintiffs since 2016, and the company is currently facing nearly 13,000 claims with up to $20 billion at stake. In February the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department issued subpoenas to J&J related to these lawsuits.

Concerns about talc contaminated with asbestos go beyond baby powder. Recently the FDA alerted consumers not to use three cosmetic products—eye shadows, contour palette, and compact powder—from Claire’s Stores, Inc., due to these products testing positive for asbestos.

J&J denies that the company knew that its baby powder contained asbestos. They maintain that their baby powder is free from asbestos and does not cause cancer.

People who are concerned about a serious cancer risk from talcum powder should consider staying away from it, or at least using it cautiously, until more scientific evidence of the link between talc and asbestos is available.

Know the Risks and Benefits of Medical Devices

Medical science continues to make great progress in diagnosing illnesses and treating them. Devices of many types allow doctors to see inside the body to diagnose a variety of conditions. Other types of medical devices that are used or implanted inside the body provide relief from many painful conditions. However, no matter how far medical science has progressed, there are still risks and benefits that people need to consider before undergoing even the most routine procedure involving a medical device.

Here are a few common devices and procedures, as well as some injuries and issues that have been associated with them.

Medical Scopes

Each year, millions of people in the U.S. have a procedure with a medical scope of some type. In these procedures, a doctor places an instrument called an endoscope inside the body to examine the esophagus, stomach, bile ducts, colon, lungs, bladder, or other organs. After each procedure these devices are cleaned and re-used on another patient. Duodenoscopes, which are used to diagnose and treat stomach and other GI tract conditions, have been of particular concern.

Since 2013, at least 35 people have died from after having a procedure that used a duodenoscope. The problem is that the design of the scope makes cleaning it extremely difficult, so even if the scope is cleaned according to the manufacturer’s instructions, bacteria can still be trapped inside the scope and transferred to another patient. A paper published in April 2018 showed that 71 percent of scopes tested at three major U.S. hospital were contaminated with bacteria.

In 2015 the FDA directed three duodenoscope manufacturers (Olympus, Fujifilm, and Pentax) to study this issue. Interim results of these studies released in December 2018 showed that up to three percent of samples were contaminated with “low-concern” organisms, and up to three percent were contaminated with organisms of high concern. Sampling is continuing.

One manufacturer, Olympus, pled guilty in December 2018 to charges of failing to file reports about infections stemming from its scopes.  The company agreed to pay $85 million to resolve the charges. Additionally, the company settled lawsuits with two women whose husbands died after undergoing a procedure with the scope and becoming infected with a “superbug” bacteria resistant to most antibiotics.

Other types of scopes are similarly difficult to clean. Bronchoscopes, which are used to look inside the lungs, have also been found to be contaminated, even after cleaning, and have likewise been linked to “superbug” infections.

Bone Cement

There are over a million joint replacements performed each year in the U.S. In many of these procedures, the surgeon uses bone cement. Bone cement doesn’t actually “glue” the joint into place; it fills the space between the artificial joint and the bone to keep the joint in place. The use of bone cement in joint replacements is not without complications, however. The bone cement can break loose, which can cause pain and affect movement. It can also leak into the body.

The most serious problem is bone cement implantation syndrome (BCIS). Fortunately, this complication is rare, but when it happens, it causes the cardiovascular system to collapse and can cause death, often during the procedure.  BCIS has been reported with knee, shoulder, and hip replacements. One study from the UK reported 41 deaths linked to the use of cement in hip replacement.

BCIS has also been reported in patients undergoing spinal surgery. As early as 2002, the FDA sent a warning about a bone cement that was being used to treat spinal fractures and had been linked to serious complications, including blood clots in the lungs, cardiac failure, and death.

In 2011 the government filed charges against a company called Synthes, a manufacturer of bone cement. The company had been testing a cement that had not been approved by the FDA for use in spinal surgeries. Five patients who received the cement had died during surgery after the company ignored reports that the cement could have fatal consequences. Because the company had not been conducting a clinical trial, patients weren’t advised of the risks and given a chance to decide if they wanted to receive the bone cement. Four Synthes executives were also charged, pled guilty and sentenced to time in jail.

Pelvic Mesh

Pelvic mesh is a relatively recent product that was initially marketed in the 1990s to treat stress urinary incontinence in women. After the success of that product, it started being used for pelvic organ prolapse. However, the use of the mesh for pelvic organ prolapse has been associated with complications including pain, infection, bleeding, mesh erosion, urinary problems, and perforation of organs, and has prompted tens of thousands of lawsuits.

The FDA received over 10,000 reports of serious injuries from pelvic (transvaginal) mesh that occurred from January 2008 to October 2018, including 77 deaths. Previously, in 2011, the FDA had issued a warning, and in 2016 they classified it as a high-risk device.

Earlier this year, a woman was awarded $41 million in a verdict against one of the manufacturers of pelvic mesh, Johnson & Johnson. Altogether, more than 100,000 women are suing manufacturers of pelvic mesh due to the complications they have experienced. Some women describe continuous pain due to the plastic of the mesh perforating the vaginal wall.

This is another instance of the product being marketed and used without the benefit of long-term study, to the detriment of thousands of women. Transvaginal mesh and is banned in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. On February 12, 2019, an FDA panel met to discuss the future of transvaginal mesh in the U.S. The panel decided that rather than pulling the mesh off the market, they would like more long-term studies.

What to Do If You Need a Procedure or Medical Device

If you are faced with needing a medical procedure or device, how can you weigh the risks and benefits? You need to be fully aware of whether the device has been studied in clinical trials and has been approved by the FDA. Even if a device has been approved , such as a duodenoscope, you need to know if there are other issues, such as infection risk, associated with its use.

Doing an internet search on the device or procedure may help answer questions such as:

  • What is the history of the procedure/device?
  • Has the device been approved by the FDA?
  • What are the risks and benefits?
  • What complications have been reported?
  • Are there ongoing lawsuits associated with the device?
  • What are the alternatives?

You should also carefully read the consent document for the procedure, as it should list the potential risks and complications.

Speak with your healthcare providers also. What is their experience with the procedure/device? How many times have they done the procedure?  What are the most common complications? Before making a decision, you may also want to speak with other patients who have had the procedure.

The bottom line is that you should arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can before undergoing a procedure so you know the risks and benefits and can make an informed decision.  

Practice Toy Safety Year-Round 

Most parents learn about toy safety during the Holidays, when consumer safety advocates drive home the message that what might seem like a harmless toy could very well put your child in danger. But toys are bought year-round, and parents may forget that toy hazards may be hiding in plain sight. Learning about toy safety and which toys pose a risk to a child could very well prevent an unfortunate accident.

Worst Toys

Each year, the consumer advocate group World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.) releases a list of toys that parents should avoid. They evaluate toys for hazards such as potential for strangulation, damage to eyes, choking, and other dangers. Last year’s “Worst Toys” list included a Cabbage Patch doll,  a Marvel Black Panther Slash Claw, and a Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel Superstar Blade.

The group points out that the toys on their list aren’t the only ones that may be dangerous, but they represent some of the common hazards. Some of W.A.T.C.H.’s safety tips for parents when buying toys include avoiding anything with small parts, toxic materials, projectiles, or strings. They also caution that sometimes toys also come with unreliable age instructions or insufficient warnings.

Toy Injuries Increase

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that 251,700 children were injured by toys in 2017. Of these, 13 deaths occurred in children younger than 15. Rather than toy injuries decreasing over the years, a 2014 study found that toy-related injuries actually increased by 40 percent between 1990 and 2011.

Toy Safety Tips

What can you do to keep your child safe? Check to see if any of your child’s toys are on the CPSC’s recall list. W.A.T.C.H. cautions against toys sold on the internet that don’t have warnings or age recommendations on the website; toys that have longer than six-inch strings; and toys that need batteries (for children under eight years of age).

Toy safety tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics include selecting age-appropriate toys that will build developmental skills. They caution about toys that have small pieces, batteries, magnets, and balloons for small children, and digital toys for older kids.

Be vigilant when choosing toys, and remember that toy safety should be a priority all year. That popular new toy might not be as harmless as it looks.

Tucson Personal Injury Blog

Tucson Personal Injury is brought to you by Attorney Louis Hollingsworth at Hollingsworth Kelly Law Firm with the goal of bringing you timely information about local and national issues that are relevant to our areas of practice – serious personal injury, auto accidents, wrongful death and medical malpractice.

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