At least 20 Irish women are planning to sue consumer multinational Johnson & Johnson over an alleged link between their ovarian cancer and use of the company’s talcum powder.
Solicitors representing the women plan to issue proceedings early in the New Year though a decision about going ahead with a full case will not be made until the results of litigation in the US are known.
Johnson & Johnson has lost three trials in the US over claims that its talc can cause ovarian cancer, with a jury in the most recently decided case awarding a Californian woman more than $70 million (€64.1 million).
The company is accused in about 1,700 lawsuits in state and federal court of ignoring studies linking its talc products to ovarian cancer and failing to warn customers about the risk.
The verdict in follows damages verdicts of $72 million (€66 million) and $55 million (€50.4 million) against the company in two earlier trials. The company is appealing the cases.
Dublin solicitor Bryan Fox says he represents up to 20 women who believe long-term use of talc contributed to their ovarian cancer.
Some of the women are deceased and the cases will be taken on behalf of their estates.
“Talc is a mineral that is mined and, in the past, it often contained impurities. Johnson & Johnson was the market leader for this product, both in Ireland and elsewhere,” he says.
Mr Fox says he will instruct barristers if the litigation by consumers in the US is successful. It is not known if other Irish legal firms are representing other women on the issue.
A spokesman for Johnson & Johnson said it could not discuss litigation.
“However, we recognise that women and families affected by ovarian cancer are searching for answers, and we deeply sympathise with everyone affected by this devastating disease.”
He said the company was defending the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder because “science, research, clinical evidence and decades of studies by medical experts around the world continue to support the safety of cosmetic talc”.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified genital talc as a possible carcinogen but there have been mixed results from studies assessing the link.
One theory advanced is that talc could work its way up into the upper genital tract and have some type of biological impact.
Consultant oncologist Dr Seamus O’Reilly said that aside from smoking and asbestos the cause of cancer is often multifactorial.
Ovarian cancer is the fourth most common cancer for women in Ireland, with almost 500 new cases each year.
Ireland has the third-highest incidence internationally, according to studies.
The disease has a high mortality rate because patients often present late, according to Dr O’Reilly, who said there was an urgent need for more genetic testing to ensure earlier diagnosis.