This month, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) classified talc as “probably carcinogenic” to humans based in part on limited evidence linking the mineral to ovarian cancer. 

Twenty-nine scientists from 13 countries met in France at the International Agency on Cancer (IARC) to review evidence and reach their decision. The group published a summary of their findings in The Lancet Oncology.

More details of the findings will be published in 2025, according to WHO’s press release

Previously, the IARC classified talc as a “possible carcinogen,” and this new classification is the second highest level of certainty that a substance causes cancer. 

IARC scientists made their decision for classification based on “a combination of limited evidence for cancer in humans (for ovarian cancer), sufficient evidence for cancer in experimental animals, and strong mechanistic evidence that talc exhibits key characteristics of carcinogens in human primary cells and experimental systems,” according to the press release. 

While the researchers based their decision on studies that showed an increased risk of ovarian cancer in women who used talcum powder in the genital area, they could not fully establish a causal link. 

This latest talc classification comes as Johnson & Johnson faces more than 57,000 talc ovarian cancer lawsuits pending in multidistrict litigation in New Jersey, and the health care giant continues to claim its talc products do not cause cancer. 

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Judge Tosses J&J’s Lawsuit Against Talc Cancer Scientist

Jonhson & Johnson has always claimed that studies linking talc to cancer are based on “junk science,” and they have aggressively attempted to discredit these papers.

Recently, J&J’s subsidiary, LTL Management, lost its bid to sue a scientist who published a paper that linked asbestos-contaminated talc and cancer after a New Jersey judge found the research was not fraudulent. 

Judge Georgette Castner dismissed the lawsuit, finding that Dr. Jacqueline Moline’s 2020 study, which concluded that asbestos-contaminated talc products may cause mesothelioma, was not an attempt at fraud, libel or false advertising.

Moline is one of four scientists J&J sued last year for publishing papers that link talc to cancer. The health care conglomerate filed the lawsuit through its LTL Management division, which J&J controversially created to shield itself from tens of thousands of talc lawsuits that claim its talc products caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. 

LTL’s lawsuit argued that these papers’ findings were fraudulent. However, Judge Castner said LTL’s lawsuit doesn’t show that Moline’s research was “verifiably false.” Furthermore, the scientist’s free speech rights protect her conclusions. 

The company will appeal the ruling, J&J’s global vice president of litigation, Erik Haas told Reuters.

The lawsuit against the other three researchers is still pending. LTL has demanded the scientists “retract and/or issue a correction” in the studies that found asbestos-contaminated talc can cause mesothelioma. 

Talc Plaintiffs File Motion to Limit J&J’s ‘Delay Tactics and Bullying’

J&J has been trying to resolve talc ovarian cancer lawsuits by offering a settlement contingent on LTL Management filing bankruptcy. Since J&J formed LTL Management, the company has failed twice to use bankruptcy to settle cancer claims linked to its talc products. 

Its third attempt is currently in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Along with this bankruptcy attempt, the company has offered more than $6 billion to settle all ovarian cancer claims. 

The talc settlement offer is divisive, and some law firms argue it’s simply not enough. Others say the terms are more reasonable than previous offers. 

Firms critical of the latest offer accused J&J of advertising the bankruptcy settlement plan to a group of “desperate and dying claimants.” In June, a group of plaintiffs’ firms filed a temporary restraining order to prevent J&J from continuing to use bankruptcy tactics. 

“We will employ every appropriate mechanism possible to stop J&J from using bankruptcy to deprive women of their individual right to choose whether to settle or proceed to a jury trial. Individuals should not be coerced to accept unreasonable settlement values and terms through the bankruptcy vote of a group of others,” attorney Andy Birchfield said in a press release. “On behalf of our clients, we will press on through all of J&J’s delay tactics and bullying.”

At the end of June, Judge Mike Shipp denied the motion. Any harm plaintiffs might suffer was “hypothetical,” he said in his opinion.