A Los Angeles jury ruled in Eva Echeverria’s favour in her lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson. Echeverria finally received some solace in her battle against the talcum powder giant when the jury ordered the company to pay her USD68 million in compensatory damages and USD340 million in punitive damages.

A long-time consumer of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder

From California, Echeverria was an ardent consumer of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder since the 1950s until 2016. In 2007, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which was later found to have been developed due to the regular usage of the Johnson & Johnson’s product.

In her lawsuit, which was presented by her lawyer, Mark Robinson, Echeverria explained how she came to know that she developed ovarian cancer from a “proximate result of the unreasonably dangerous and defective nature of talcum powder.”

She also accused Johnson & Johnson of failing to effectively warn their consumers about the potential cancer risks that comes from using their talcum powder. News of this victorious verdict is a small relief for Echeverria, who’s currently hospitalised for her cancer treatment.

“Mrs. Echeverria is dying from this ovarian cancer and she said to me all she wanted to do was to help the other women throughout the whole country who have ovarian cancer for using Johnson & Johnson for 20 and 30 years,” said Robinson.

Among the other evidence produced in court was internal documents of many years that substantially proved Johnson & Johnson knew about the risks that came with their product – and yet, did nothing to warn its consumers about the possible development of ovarian cancer.

Elaborating further on their findings, Robinson explained that “Johnson & Johnson had many warning bells over a 30-year period. However, it has failed to warn the women who were buying its product.”

Johnson & Johnson defends its products

Carol Goodrich, a Johnson & Johnson spokesperson, commented that the company plans to appeal the jury’s decision. She also made a point to mention that while “the company sympathises with ovarian cancer patients”, there’s scientific evidence that their “Johnson’s baby powder is safe to be used.”

In a statement on behalf of the company, Goodrich noted that “We are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder. We are preparing for additional trials in the US, and we will continue to defend the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder.”

Johnson & Johnson hit with many other similar lawsuits

Echeverria’s lawsuit is not the only one against the talcum powder company. Another woman in Virginia successfully sued Johnson & Johnson after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012. The jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay her USD110.5 million, when the verdict was pronounced in May 2017.

In three other separate trials last year, the jury found Johnson & Johnson guilty and had the company pay the victims a total of USD307.6 million. There have been more than 1,000 people, who filed similar lawsuits and have been awarded smaller amounts of monetary damages.

Not all cases were successful though, as separate juries rejected three different cases. All of these cases were lawsuits filed by female patients, who blamed talcum powder for the development of their ovarian cancers. More cases are pending to be heard in court.

Johnson & Johnson is not about to give in to this and the other verdicts which are against their favour. The company is said to be preparing to defend its manufactured products against these cancer claims.

Experts weighed in

Some experts agree while others disagree on whether talc powder can really cause cancer. A professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Dr Daniel Cramer, thinks that “it is possible.”

“Overall, women may increase their risk in general by about 33% by using talc in their hygiene,” explains Cramer, who was also a paid consultant in many of the similar cases against Johnson & Johnson.

Cramer adds, “This story goes back a long, long way, back into the 70s when people noted that ovarian cancer had many similarities to asbestos exposure. Meanwhile, another group in England found talc that was deeply embedded in ovaries and said there might be a story here.”

According to Goodrich, the National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query Editorial Board found that “the weight of evidence does not support an association between perineal talc exposure and an increased risk of ovarian cancer.”

In 2010, the International Agency for Research on Cancer said that talc is a possible carcinogen. Joellen Schildkraut, a professor of public health at the University of Virginia, said that while these studies are not proof positive, they are suggestive and support the idea.

Shelley Tworoger, a cancer epidemiologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, supports the idea that using talc for female hygiene purposes could actually impact ovarian cancer. But, Tworoger states that this does not mean that talc necessarily causes ovarian cancer.

By saying that there’s enough information out there which women can look into before using these products, Tworoger asks simply, “Why use it? I don't know if I should say this or not, but... why not just be safe and not use it?” MIMS

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