Chicago Woman Names Walgreens in Talcum Powder Cancer Lawsuit

A Chicago woman who used Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and Shower to Shower powder that she bought at Walgreens has named the retailer as a defendant in her lawsuit charging that the talc in the products gave her ovarian cancer.

The lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court by attorney Robert A. Clifford of the Clifford Law Offices in Chicago. Andrea Harris and Bart Harris v. Johnson & Johnson and Walgreen Co.

Litigation involving talcum powder is centered in the Missouri 22nd Circuit Court, which in March upheld a $70 million talcum powder verdict stands against J&J. Internal J&J memos showed the company was aware of studies linking talc powder to an increased risk of ovarian cancer for decades, and more than 1,000 talcum powder-related lawsuits have been filed against the company.

Ovarian cancer diagnosis

The plaintiff, a semi-professional and competitive athlete, started routinely bought J&J’s baby powder at Walgreens for use in the perineal area in 2006. From 1984 to 1989 she did the same with Shower to Shower. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015, and underwent surgery and subsequent treatment.

“J & J has a dedicated office and team specifically devoted to assessing, analyzing and promoting product purchases from its baby product line at Walgreens,” the complaint states.

“From offices in Illinois, J & J and Walgreens jointly analyze, assess, and strategize the most meaningful methods of selling, promoting and marketing its baby powder products. Moreover, J & J and Walgreens implement strategies to influence consumers’ purchase of J & J baby powder products from Walgreens, including through data analytics of customers’ purchases and loyalty and rewards programs.

“J & J and Walgreens jointly evaluate the products placed for sale and promotion in Walgreens’ stores, and thoroughly assess and discuss the safety, efficacy and suitably of products marketed and sold, including J & J baby powder products,” the complaint states.

22 studies show cancer risk

Since 1982, there have been approximately 22 epidemiologic studies providing data about the association of talc and ovarian cancer. Nearly all of these studies have reported an elevated risk for ovarian cancer associated with genital talc use in women.

Among the evidence to be presented at trial:

  • In 1983, a case-control study found a 150% increased risk of ovarian cancer for women who use talcum powder in the genital area. Hartge, P., et al. Talc and Ovarian Cancer. JAMA. 1983; 250(14): 1844.
  • In 1988, a case-control study of 188 women diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer and 539 control women found that 52% of the cancer patients habitually
    used talcum powder on the genital area before their cancer diagnosis. The study
    showed a 50% increase in risk of ovarian cancer in women that used talcum powder
    on their genital area and a positive dose-response relationship. Whittemore AS, et
    al. Personal and environmental characteristics related to epithelial ovarian cancer.
    II. Exposures to talcum powder, tobacco, alcohol, and coffee. Am. J. Epidemiol.
    1988 Dec; 128(6):1228-40.
  • A 1989 study looked at 235 women diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer and
    451 controls, and found a 29% increased risk in ovarian cancer with women who
    reported genital talcum powder use more than once each week. Booth, M., et al.
    Risk factors for ovarian cancer: a case-control study. Br J Cancer. 1989 Oct;
    60(4):592-8.
  • In 1992, a case-control study found a statistically significant 80% increased risk of
    ovarian cancer in women with more than 10,000 lifetime perineal applications of
    talc, demonstrating a positive dose-response relationship. Harlow BL, et al.
    Perineal exposure to talc and ovarian cancer risk. Obstet Gynecol. 1992 Jul;
    80(1):19-26.
  • Another 1992 case-control study reported a 70% increased risk from genital talc
    use and a 379% increased risk of ovarian cancer of women who used talc on
    sanitary napkins in their genital area. Rosenblatt, K.A. et al. Mineral fiber exposure
    and the development of ovarian cancer. Gynecol Oncol. 1992 Apr; 45(l):20-5.
  • In 1995, the largest study of its kind to date found a statistically significant 27%
    increased risk in ovarian cancer for women who regularly use talc in the abdominal
    or perineal area. Purdie, D., et al. Reproductive and other factors and risk of
    epithelial ovarian cancer: An Australian case-control study. Survey of Women’s
    Health Study Group. Int JCancer. 1995 Sep 15; 62(6):678-84.
  • In 1996, a case-control study found a statistically significant 97% increased risk of
    ovarian cancer in women who used what they described as a “moderate” or higher
    use of talc-based powders in their genital area. See Shushan, A., et al. Human
    menopausal gonadotropin and the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. Fertil. Steril.
    1996 Jan; 65(l):13-8.
  • In 1997, a case-control study of 313 women with ovarian cancer and 422 without
    this disease found that the women with cancer were more likely to have applied
    talcum powder to their external genitalia area. Women using these products had a
    statistically significant 50% to 90% higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. Cook,
    LS, et al. Perineal powder exposure and the risk of ovarian cancer. Am. J Epidemiol.
    1997 Mar 1; 145(5):459-65.
  • In 1997, a case-control study involving over 1,000 women found a statistically
    significant increased risk of 42% for ovarian cancer for women who applied talc
    via sanitary napkins to their perineal area. Chang, S, et al. Perineal talc exposure
    and risk of ovarian carcinoma. Cancer. 1997 Jun 15; 79(12):2396-401.
  • In 1998, a case-control study found a 149% increased risk of ovarian cancer in
    women who used talc-based powders on their perineal area. Godard, B., et al. Risk
    factors for familial and sporadic ovarian cancer among French Canadians: a case-
    control study. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1998 Aug; 179(2):403-10.
  • Dr. Daniel Cramer conducted another case-control study in 1999, observing 563
    women newly diagnosed with epithelial ovarian cancer and 523 women in a control.
    The study found a statistically significant 60% increased risk of ovarian cancer in
    women that used talc-based body powders on their perineal area and an 80%
    increase in risk for women with over 10,000 lifetime applications. Cramer, DW, et
    al. Genital talc exposure and risk of ovarian cancer. Int J Cancer. 1999 May 5;
    81 (3):351-56.
  • In 2000, a case-control study of over 2,000 women found a statistically significant
    50% increased risk of ovarian cancer from genital talc use in women. Ness, RB, et al. Factors related to inflammation of the ovarian epithelium and risk of ovariancancer. Epidemiology. 2000 Mar; 11 (2): 111 -7.
  • In 2004, a case-control study of nearly 1,400 women from 22 counties in Central
    California found a statistically significant 37% increased risk of epithelial ovarian
    cancer from women’s genital talc use, and a 77% increased risk of serous invasive
    ovarian cancer from women’s genital talc use. Importantly, this study also
    examined women’s use of cornstarch powders as an alternative to talc, and found
    no increased risk in ovarian cancer in women in the cornstarch group, further
    supporting the causal connection between genital talc use and ovarian cancer. Mills,
    PK, et al. Perineal talc exposure and epithelial ovarian cancer risk in the Central
    Valley of California. Int J Cancer. 2004 Nov 10; 112(3):458-64.
  • In 2008, a combined study of over 3,000 women from a New England-based case-
    control study found a general 36% statistically significant increased risk of
    epithelial ovarian cancer from genital talc use and a 60% increased risk of the serous
    invasive ovarian cancer subtype. The study also found a strong dose response
    relationship between the cumulative talc exposure and incidence of ovarian cancer,
    adding further support to the causal relationship. Gates, MA, et al. Talc Use,
    Variants of the GSTM1, GSTT1, and NAT2 Genes, and Risk of Epithelial Ovarian
    Cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2008 Sep; 17(9):2436-44.
  • A 2009 case-control study of over 1,200 women found the risk of ovarian cancer
    increased significantly with increasing frequency and duration of talc use, with an
    overall statistically significant 53% increased risk of ovarian cancer from genital
    talc use. That increased risk rose dramatically, to 108%, in women with the longest
    duration and most frequent talc use. Wu, AH, et al. Markers of inflammation and
    risk of ovarian cancer in Los Angeles County. Int. J Cancer. 2009 Mar 15;
    124(6):1409-15.
  • In 2011, another case-control study of over 2,000 women found a 27% increased
    risk of ovarian cancer from genital talc use. Rosenblatt, KA, et al. Genital powder
    exposure and the risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. Cancer Causes Control. 2011
    May; 22(5):737-42.
  • In June of 2013, a pooled analysis of over 18,000 women in eight case-control
    studies found a 20% to 30% increased risk of women developing epithelial ovarian
    cancer from genital powder use. The study concluded by stating, “Because there
    are few modifiable risk factors for ovarian cancer, avoidance of genital powders
    may be a possible strategy to reduce ovarian cancer incidence.” Terry, KL, et al.
    Genital powder use and risk of ovarian cancer: a pooled analysis of 8,525 cases and
    9,859 controls. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2013 Aug; 6(8):811-21.

    Other evidence cited by the complaint:

  • In 1993, the United States National Toxicology Program published a study on the
    toxicity of non-asbestiform talc and found clear evidence of carcinogenic activity. Talc was found to be a carcinogen, with or without the presence of asbestos-like fibers.
  • On November 10, 1994, the Cancer Prevention Coalition mailed a letter to then
    Johnson & Johnson C.E.O, Ralph Larson, informing his company that studies as far back as 1960’s “. . . show[ ] conclusively that the frequent use of talcum powder in the genital area poses a serious health risk of ovarian cancer.” The letter cited a recent study by Dr. Bernard Harlow from Harvard Medical School confirming this fact and quoted a portion of the study where Dr. Harlow and his colleagues discouraged the use of talc in the female genital area. The letter further stated that 14,000 women per year die from ovarian cancer and that this type of cancer is very difficult to detect and has a low survival rate. The letter concluded by requesting that Johnson & Johnson withdraw talc products from the market because of the alternative of cornstarch powders, or at a minimum, place warning information on its talc-based body powders about ovarian cancer risk they pose.
  • In 1996, the condom industry stopped dusting condoms with talc due to the growing health concerns.
  • In February of 2006, the International Association for the Research of Cancer (IARC) part of the World Health Organization published a paper whereby they classified perineal use of talc-based body powder as a “Group 2B” human carcinogen.
  • In approximately 2006, the Canadian government under The Hazardous Products Act and associated Controlled Products Regulations classified talc as a “D2A,” “very toxic,”
    “cancer causing” substance under its Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS). Asbestos is also classified as “D2A”.
  • In 2006, Imerys Talc began placing a warning on the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) it provided to Defendants regarding the talc it sold to them to be used in the Products.

“Defendants had a duty to know and warn about the hazards associated with the use
of the Products. Defendants failed to inform customers and end users of the Products of a known catastrophic health hazard associated with the use of the Products. In addition. Defendants procured and disseminated false, misleading, and biased information regarding the safety of the Products to the public and used influence over governmental and regulatory bodies regarding talc,” the complaint states.


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