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US court awards $4.7 billion in talcum powder cancer case

View profile for Robert Donlan
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US court awards $4.7 billion in talcum powder cancer case

A court in the United States has ordered pharmaceutical and cosmetics firm, Johnson & Johnson to pay more than $4.7 billion (£3.6 billion) to 22 women who said they have developed ovarian cancer after using its talcum powder.

Six of the 22 women represented in the above case have died from ovarian cancer.

The women’s lawyers alleged that Johnson & Johnson were aware that its talcum powder was contaminated with asbestos since the 1970s but failed to warn of the risks.

It is reported that Johnson & Johnson are presently battling some 9,000 legal cases involving its talcum powder.

Johnson and Johnson (J&J) have stated that they plan to appeal.

So, is talcum powder safe?

Ovacome, a UK ovarian cancer charity, providing advice and support to women with ovarian cancer, have produced a number of factsheets, which can be found on their website.

Ovacome state:

“There have been worries for some years that using talcum powder on the genital area may increase the risk of ovarian cancer. However, so far this has not been proved by research”

Ovacome have produced a factsheet in respect of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer which can be found here.

Will we see similar cases in the UK?

It seems unlikely.

It has been previously suggested that if similar cases seen in the United States had gone through a UK court, the claimants would not have ‘stood a chance in hell’.

Putting this blunt language aside, there is some truth in their assertion. Such cases in the UK would have been decided by a judge, not a jury, where any perceived evidence would be under much more intense and structured legal scrutiny.

Any claimant in the UK would have to prove that J&J knew that their products were unsafe, according to the best scientific knowledge available during the period those products were being used.

Any ruling in favour of the claimant would rely on irrefutable ‘causation’ – that the use of J&J products directly and materially contributed to the ovarian cancer. However, causation is very difficult to prove.

It is perhaps revealing that cases against J&J have been brought in the United States for several years, but there has yet to be a single case heard in a UK court.

This does not rule out the possibility of a ‘test case’ in future, but – at present – there seems to be little prospect for success.