She blames her cancer on baby powder. Now she's suing and urges other women to 'get checked'
Lawyers say a recent ruling by a U.S. court has reinvigorated lawsuits north of the border
A 57-year-old Montreal woman says she would have never suspected her ovarian cancer diagnosis would be linked to her daily use of a talc-based product and believes other Canadians still don't know the deadly illness can be linked to something as seemingly benign as talc-based baby powder.
Talc is no longer considered safe for use in cosmetics and personal cleansing products because exposure to the product carries a risk of developing potentially serious respiratory problems and possibly ovarian cancer in women.
Healthcare conglomerate Johnson & Johnson stopped selling its iconic talc-based Johnson's Baby Powder in North America in 2020 and now faces a flood of lawsuits from thousands of plaintiffs who claim the company knew for decades yet never made it public its talc-based products contained traces of asbestos, a known carcinogen.
Manon Lavigne, who is one of dozens of Canadian plaintiffs pursuing a claim against the healthcare conglomerate, believes daily use of the product is why she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer in July of 2021 when doctors stumbled upon a grapefruit-sized tumour growing inside her body during a routine scan.
'I used it a lot, my whole adult life'
"For me, the way I used it, I'm sure it did something, because it wasn't just once or twice, it was every day, rain or shine," Lavigne said. "I used it a lot, my whole adult life."
Lavigne said she doesn't smoke or drink and has always taken good care of her body. She said she felt no symptoms and may have never known about the cancer until it was too late, had it not been for a routine scan for back pain that turned out to be kidney stones.
"I was lucky it was found by accident. Otherwise, I would never have known," she said. "Kidney stones saved my life."
Lavigne said the cancer diagnosis has made her disillusioned and instilled in her a deep mistrust of health companies.
"I have chronic health anxiety because of it now. Because of having cancer, every time I'm in a tiny little bit of pain, I'm worried now, and it gives me anxiety," she said.
"I'm still processing it a year and a half later that this happened. If something as innocent as baby powder can do this to you, imagine what other things can do to you that we don't know."
'Millions of people used baby powder for years'
While Lavigne is grateful doctors were able to find and remove the cancer before it was able to spread, she believes there are other women who may have developed the deadly illness because of their daily use of talc-based self-cleansing products and don't know it.
"Millions of people used baby powder for years and years," she said. "I'm sure people don't know about it."
It's why Lavigne urges other women to get themselves checked because, she said, there is no routine check for ovarian cancer.
Jill McCartney, a London, Ont., based lawyer with the Siskinds Law Firm who is representing Lavigne, said because the use of talc-based products was so ubiquitous over the last 50 years, the case casts a wide net.
"It was certainly put out in the world to be used with regularity. That's the way it was marketed, that's the way it was sold. I think there's a lot of people out there that have used the product and had a cancer diagnosis.
"I think there are a lot of people out there who have potentially suffered harm."
McCartney said anyone in Canada who thinks they may have a claim is encouraged to get in touch with a law firm to see if they're qualified. Siskinds has set up its own dedicated website for a Canadian class action.
McCartney said a recent ruling by a U.S. federal appeals court in Philadelphia had rejected Johnson & Johnson's use of an obscure and controversial legal manoeuvre called "Texas two-step." The tactic involves a solvent company creating a subsidiary with limited assets that then takes the brunt of the lawsuits before it declares bankruptcy.
The rejection by the court is considered a setback for Johnson & Johnson, which has been trying to limit its exposure to tens of thousands of litigants in the U.S. and Canada.
Class actions have been filed in both the U.S. and Canada. None have been settled or gone to trial where the allegations can be tested by a court.
A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson declined to comment.
- An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated Manon Lavigne was represented by the Siskinds Law Firm as part of a Canadian class action against Johnson & Johnson, when in fact Siskinds has not filed a class action. Siskinds is representing Canadians who have been impacted on an individual basis.Feb 21, 2023 9:27 AM ET