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Johnson & Johnson has been at the center of a tidal wave of lawsuits, with more than 14,000 filed in 2019 alone, over the claim the use of its popular baby powder and its main ingredient, talc, could be linked to ovarian and mesothelioma cancers.
However, a study published on Jan. 7 in JAMA found no significant connection between the use of the powder and ovarian cancer diagnoses.
The study pooled data from four previous major U.S. women’s studies, tracking 252,745 women over several decades, JAMA reports. The researchers looked at whether they used the powder in the genital area frequently, occasionally or never, along with long-term versus short-term, and whether they later developed ovarian cancer. They found the difference in cancer incidence between the women who used the powder frequently and/or long-term and those who never used it to be negligible.
The researchers concluded no “statistically significant association between (the) use of powder in the genital area and ovarian cancer, but the study may have been underpowered to identify a small increase in risk,” the study reads.
This need for additional, larger studies could mean additional lawsuits in the future until more definitive answers are provided. According the Los Angeles Times, lawyers representing cancer victims have cited earlier, smaller studies that have indicated a possible link.
Johnson & Johnson claimed a win in December, when a St. Louis jury ruled in favor of the company, saying it wouldn’t have to pay 56-year-old Vicki Forrest, who alleged more than 30 years of using the powder caused her cancer. Another jury from that same court, however, last summer ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7 billion to 22 women and their families, who claimed the baby powder and the company’s Shower to Shower powder caused their cancer.
Johnson & Johnson also is dealing with mesothelioma lawsuits, including one filed on Jan. 2 by the state of New Mexico, claiming the powder contains the carcinogen asbestos, causing the cancer that attacks the tissue that covers most internal organs, MesotheliomaGuide.com reports. The company also earlier this month made headlines when it settled with a woman claiming the use of their baby powder caused her mesothelioma. The terms of the agreement were not made public, however.
The connection between mesothelioma and asbestos has been well-documented, and talc, a mined mineral, is often found in the earth with asbestos. Johnson & Johnson officials have insisted they’ve thoroughly tested their powders for the past 40 years to make sure they were free of asbestos. But according to the New York Times, the company recalled of 33,000 bottles of their talc-containing products after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration discovered evidence of asbestos in one of the bottles.
Johnson & Johnson Vice President of Women’s Health Dr. Susan Nicholson has said the FDA’s finding was an anomaly that was inconsistent with the company’s testing, the New York Times says, and officials continue to insist the powder is safe, citing earlier FDA testing that didn’t find any asbestos. They also said the amount of the carcinogen found in the one positive sample was very small at a fraction of 1 percent. The FDA responded, saying no known amount is safe for human exposure.
Amy M. Kronenberger is a journalist, blogger and freelance writer from Lima, Ohio. She has worked at The Daily Standard newspaper in Celina, Ohio, since 2010, having served six years as a reporter and four as copy editor. She also is the author of a health and wellness blog, Waiting for Alzheimer’s, and is passionate about helping others find complete health.