In recent months several medical devices and popular products have been officially found to cause gynecological cancer in women. Talcum powder, when used in the genital area, is now associated with ovarian and uterine cancer, while power morcellators (used in hysterectomies and myomectomies) are definitively linked to uterine cancer. The team of cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins takes a closer look at these products and their real-life, often devastating consequences.
Talcum powder - often referred to as baby powder - is processed from a soft mineral and is commonly used to freshen the feminine genital area. Advertisements by Johnson & Johnson and other talc powder makers has persuaded women for decades that they need powder products such as this to help with odors, moisture, or friction. Because these products are easily available at stores like Walgreens, women have been using them regularly for many years of their lives.
Medical researchers first found evidence of talcum particles in ovarian tumors in the early 1970s. Their findings were confirmed by a subsequent publication in the highly esteemed medical journal The Lancet, which blatantly warned that the harmful effects of talcum in the ovaries should not be ignored. Johnson & Johnson's medical director sharply and publically contested the reports, and the company chose not to provide any warnings on their powder products labels.
Twenty years later, in 1992, Obstetrics & Gynecology published a report noting that frequent talc use to the genital area increased a woman's risk of ovarian cancer three fold. Since then, at least a dozen other publications released information on the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.
The fatality of ovarian cancer is sharply increasing, particularly among black women, who are reported to use talcum powder in higher rates. About 16,000 Americans die every year from ovarian cancer, making it the fourth most deadly cancer for women.
An extraordinarily high number of women use talcum powder products in the genital area, either through direct application or via powdered tampons, sanitary napkins, condoms or diaphragms. Officials from throughout the cosmetic and medical community have publically conceded that talcum powder can reach the ovaries and grow toxic in the human body.
Despite decades of warning, neither the FDA nor talc powder manufactures have shown concern about the cancer risk. Although both are aware of the medical literature associating talc use with ovarian cancer development, neither has considered restricting the products or placing extra warnings on them. More than once, the FDA has denied petitions for talcum powder/cancer risk labelling.
Another product that is now associated with sever cancer risk in women is known as a power morcellator. This medical device is used in minimally-invasive hysterectomies and uterine fibroid removal surgeries (myomectomies). Earlier in 2014, the FDA issued a warning urging doctors and hospitals to stop using power morcellators due to their potential to spread aggressive uterine cancer.
These devices work by breaking uterine fibroids into tiny pieces so they can be easily removed through a small incision. The problem lies within the uterine fibroids, which often contain undetected cancerous cells. Once broken down, the cancer cells spread throughout the uterine cavity, causing aggressive, late-stage cancer in women who otherwise would be leading healthy lives. There is no current reliable test to check for cancer cells in uterine fibroids before their removal, although there are many other alternatives to have them removed.
Power morcellators were first approved in 1991; since then, more than 10 types of power morcellators have been approved for market sale. The FDA did not start studying how morcellators could harm women until December 2013, after women started coming forward about their unnecessary cancer diagnoses. This illuminates massive shortcomings in the FDA's approval process.
Sadly, for many women, these power morcellator recalls, talcum powder warnings and FDA safety alerts have come too late. In one of the most recent lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson over power morcellators, a woman in South Dakota won her lawsuit against the company. The woman used J&J's baby powder for several years and consequently developed ovarian cancer. One of the medical experts who testified in that case estimated that thousands of women are diagnosed with talcum-caused ovarian cancer every year.