Jury finds talcum powder brand linked to cancer

Johnson & Johnson is ordered to pay more than $500m in damages.

Johnson & Johnson has been ordered to pay $500 million to a 63-year-old woman in the US after a court ruled its talcum 'baby' powder was linked to her cancer.

A Los Angeles court has awarded Eva Echeverria $US417 ($AU525) million in damages after a jury ruled there was a connection between her ovarian cancer and talcum powder offered by Johnson & Johnson.

The award is the largest of five similar court cases to date, with reports suggesting there are 4800 more lawsuits alleging a link between cancer and Johnson & Johnson's baby powder.

The plaintiff was unable to attend court proceedings on account of being gravely ill, her attorney told the Los Angeles Times. Her testimony was pre-recorded and played back on a video cassette before the jury.

Echeverria testified to using Johnson's Baby Powder for more than 50 years – since she was 11 – up until 2016, stopping only after she came across a news article of a woman who used the product and was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

She said she wouldn't have used the product if it had had a safety warning.

The jury deliberated for two days before ruling Johnson & Johnson was to pay Echeverria $US70 ($AU88) million in compensatory damages and $US347 ($AU437) million in punitive damages, a report from the Los Angeles Times claims.

Johnson & Johnson issued a statement after the ruling: "We will appeal today's verdict because we are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson's Baby Powder."

Lawyers representing Johnson & Johnson cited studies that concluded talcum powder was not carcinogenic, including one from the US government's Food and Drug Administration.

They also referenced a study conducted in 2000, by Harvard University and Nurse's Health Study, where ovarian cancer was contracted by 307 out of 78,630 participants who used talcum powder. The researchers concluded there was no link between the two, except for a modest increase in risk for invasive serous ovarian cancer. This is the type of cancer Echeverria reportedly suffers from.

Parallels between Johnson & Johnson and Big Tobacco were reportedly made by Echeverria's lawyers, who claimed the company promoted and sold a product that promoted the growth of cancer.

CHOICE understands Johnson & Johnson's baby powder is widely sold in Australia.

The Cancer Council says the results of the court case does not change the science when it comes to talcum powder and cancers.

"There isn't any new evidence to suggest a link between ovarian cancer and talcum powder," says Professor Sanchia Aranda, the chief executive of Cancer Council Australia.

"Based on the current evidence women shouldn't be alarmed or feel they need to stop using talc powder."

Concerns about talcum powder are related to how talc was mined in the past – it used to contain asbestos, but that's been fully removed from the products sold today. Results from past studies examining if talcum powder causes cancer have been inconclusive.

"The International Agency for Research on Cancer looked at all the evidence and concluded that talcum powder "possibly" causes cancer – this is one of their lowest ratings," Aranda tells CHOICE.

"It means the evidence is weak and inconsistent, but they haven't ruled out a link."