June 1, 2017
In high-stakes trials, the testimony of expert witnesses often makes the critical difference between victory and defeat. Nowhere is that truer than in medically related cases, including trials about the link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer.
Dr. Graham Colditz, Deputy Director at the Institute for Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis, recently testified as part of the St. Louis trial concerning certain Johnson & Johnson products containing talc ingredients that allegedly cause ovarian cancer in users, according to Courtroom View Network.
Dr. Colditz testified that the available evidence linking talc to ovarian cancer satisfied the Bradford Hill criteria. The Bradford Hill criteria are a set of guidelines that evaluate the amount and type of evidence making the link between the exposure and the injury. Bradford Hill, for example, was used to establish the link between smoking and lung cancer.
Universal scientific agreement on the talc-cancer link does not exist, however, and experts have conflicting interpretations of the evidence. For example, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said talc is possibly carcinogenic to humans, and the American Cancer Society (ACS) released a report in 2014 that called for more research, according to Medscape.
“When talking about whether or not talcum powder is linked to cancer, it is important to distinguish between talc that contains asbestos and talc that is asbestos-free,” the ACS cautions. For talc with asbestos, the evidence is clear: asbestos-ridden talc causes cancer if inhaled. However, talc with asbestos is generally not used in consumer goods anymore. What is used is asbestos-free talc—and the jury is still out (quite literally) on whether or not asbestos-free talc can cause cancer.
Even though there is no universal scientific agreement, women across the country are moving forward with their talcum powder lawsuits. In fact, just over a year ago, a jury ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $72 million in damages to the family of a woman who was a longtime user of Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products and who died from ovarian cancer at age 62. The testimony of expert witnesses like Dr. Colditz continues to be an important factor in these trials amid the uncertainty of the scientific community at large.