A California woman was awarded $417 million Monday in a case that claimed she developed terminal ovarian cancer from using Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder for feminine hygiene.
Eva Echeverria said she had been using the powder since was 11 years old, but stopped last year when she read reports of talcum powder being linked to ovarian cancer.
While Echeverria’s verdict is the highest amount awarded so far, her case is one of thousands against the company’s talcum powder in the U.S, reported Associated Press.
“She told me, ‘I’m not doing this for myself,’” Echeverria’s lawyer, Mark Robinson, told The New York Times. “She knows she’s going to die. She’s doing this for other women. She wants to do something good before she leaves.”
Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $110 million earlier this year, and $72 million in October in similar ovarian cancer cases. Multiple law firms can also be seen soliciting clients for ovarian cancer cases on Twitter.
There are also multiple class action lawsuits against the company currently underway here in Canada.
But as Fast Company noted, the most shocking thing about her case isn’t the dollar amount, but that “many people still have no idea there may be a link between talcum powder and cancer.”
Given the rise in dialogue around potentially-harmful chemicals in health and beauty products in recent years (hands up if you knew what parabens were 10 years ago), how can that be?
For starters, because talcum powder is considered a cosmetic, manufacturers don’t have to add a warning label about potential side effects, as is required for drugs.
But to muddy the waters further, even the scientific community seems to be confused about the link between talc powder and cancer.
Johnson & Johnson cited a National Cancer Institute report from April in its defense, which said that evidence “does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.” But the institute also said elsewhere that “it is not clear” whether talc affects the risk of ovarian cancer, as The New York Times reported.
“Overall, women may increase their risk in general by about 33 per cent by using talc in their hygiene,” Dr. Daniel Cramer, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told NPR.
And although genital use of talc powder is called “possibly carcinogenic” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, “it’s not proof positive,” said Joellen Schildkraut, a professor of public health at the University of Virginia, in the same NPR article.
The jury may still be out on the link between talc and ovarian cancer (at least in the thousands of lawsuits that have yet to be decided), but there’s enough concern to warrant caution.
“Why use it?” Shelley Tworoger, a cancer epidemiologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida, told NPR. “I don’t know if I should say this or not, but … why not just be safe and not use it?”