Johnson & Johnson is preparing to fight another legal battle as a new lawsuit claims that the company's talcum powder gave a woman from California ovarian cancer.
Two lawsuits against the pharmaceutical company have already ended in verdicts worth $127 million, while two other cases had been discarded by a judge who said there was no reliable evidence to support the link.
About 1,800 cases have been filed against the company over its talcum powder, according to Onder Law Firm. This time, the new lawsuit accuses Johnson & Johnson of "negligent conduct" in the production and marketing of the baby powder.
John Beisner, the lawyer representing Johnson & Johnson, argues that there is no scientific link between talc and the development of cancer. The company plans to fight the cases individually, with the hopes of convincing juries that the science behind the lawsuits is lacking.
Can Talcum Powder Cause Cancer?
Talcum powder is made from talc, a mineral mined from deposits around the world. Talc mostly consists of oxygen, silicon and magnesium. It is actually the softest of all minerals because it can be crushed into white powder.
Johnson & Johnson has been using talcum powder for its Baby Powder since 1894, and experts say the material has long been widespread in cosmetics since ancient times.
In its natural form, talc contains asbestos which is a carcinogen, but experts say the difference between asbestos-free powder and the natural form should be distinguished.
According to The New York Times, research on the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer dates back to 1971, when scientists found particles of talc in cervical and ovarian tumors.
Since then, reports have emerged linking the powder to ovarian cancer. Indeed, studies have suggested that if talcum powder is directly applied to the genital area or on sanitary napkins, then it might cause cancer, the American Cancer Society (ACS) said.
Meanwhile, experts say the question of whether talcum powder causes cancer is not an easy one to answer.
Dr. Shelley Tworoger of Brigham and Women's Hospital said there is no way to know for certain that exposure can necessarily cause a disease.
"[T]here's usually no way to guarantee that what you see is actually the truth," said Tworoger.
Furthermore, cancer is difficult to study because it develops over a long period of time, and is affected by multiple factors such as behavior, genes and environment.
Lastly, scientists typically look at both lab-based and human studies to determine whether something is carcinogenic or not.
Photo: Austin Kirk | Flickr