By Rachael Babin.
A US jury has awarded $72 million to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer, which she claimed to be caused by the prolonged use of Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder.
Jackie Fox, from Alabama, whose claim was part of an action involving 60 people, died aged 62 from ovarian cancer in 2015.
Following her death, her son Marvin Salter, became the plaintiff in the claim and has now been awarded $72 million. The family’s lawyers said this was the first case in the States linking the famous talcum powder to cancer that had resulted in a monetary award, and warned there were over 1,000 similar cases nationally.
The jury ruled that Ms Fox’s family were entitled to $10m in actual damages and $62m in punitive damages. It is expected that Johnson & Johnson would appeal the result.
Professor Paul Pharoah, Professor of Cancer Epidemiology, at University of Cambridge, echoed this, commenting the court decision was flawed for two reasons.
“First, the evidence of a causal association between genital talc use and ovarian cancer risk is weak. Second, even if the association were true, the strength of the association is too small to be able to say on the balance of probabilities that any cancer arising in a woman who used talc had been caused by the talc.
Ovarian cancer is the 5th most common cancer in women, after breast, lung, bowel and womb cancer in the UK. There are several different types – serous, endometrioid, clear cell and mucinous being the primary ones – and each one has different risk factors and clinical features.
Other Risk Factors
Professor Pharoah said the key risk factors for ovarian cancer were not environmental or linked to specific cosmetic products, but were varied including, “hormone replacement therapy use, being overweight, and having endometriosis. Smoking is associated with one of the rarer types of ovarian cancer – mucinous ovarian cancer. There are several genetic variants that are associated with an increased risk. Faults in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in particular are associated with high risks.
“The use of the oral contraceptive pill during early adulthood is associated with a 50 per cent reduction in risk of ovarian cancer that persists many years after stopping the pill. Pregnancy and breast feeding are also associated with a reduction in risk, as is tubal ligation.
Investigating Links Between Talcum Powder Use & Ovarian Cancer
A possible association between talcum powder use and risk of ovarian cancer has been reported for many years. Prof Pharoah provided expert analysis of these studies;
“This association was based on case-control studies, which are rather prone to bias. A recent multi-study collaborative analysis of over 8,000 cases and 9,000 controls found that perineal talc use was associated with a 20% increase in the risk of ovarian cancer. There was no difference in the risk of the different types of ovarian cancer.
“Prospective studies are less prone to bias than case-control studies, though they are not bias free. There have been two prospective studies investigating this association. One found a significant association with risk of the serous type of cancer, and the other found a non-significant increase in risk of the serous type of ovarian cancer. The results of both these studies were compatible with the 20% increase in risk reported by case-control studies.
He concluded that the association between ovarian cancer and talcum powder was “biologically plausible” because the powder applied to the genital area might get into the fallopian tubes and onto the ovaries and cause inflammation, which in turn could cause ovarian cancer.
“On balance, I think that it is more likely than not that there is an association between genital talc use and risk of some types of ovarian cancer, however it’s important to remember the size of the possible risk – a 20 year old woman in the UK has a risk of getting ovarian cancer at some point in her life of 18 in a thousand; a 20% increase in this risk would raise this to 22 in a thousand (assuming that the association were real). A woman with a fault in the BRCA1 gene has a lifetime risk of ovarian cancer of about 400 in a thousand.”
[hr] Source: UK Science Media Centre
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