In 2013, Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie made an announcement that would shine a spotlight on a genetic mutation called BRCA. “BRCA” is short for breast cancer. Women, like Jolie, who carry this genetic mutation (there are two primary gene mutations, BRCA1 and BRCA2) are more at risk for developing breast cancer.
Because she had the BRCA genetic mutation, Jolie decided to undergo a preemptive double mastectomy.
Jolie isn’t in the minority of women who carry the BRCA gene. In fact, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, every single person on the planet possesses both BRCA 1 and 2 genes. And the genes themselves do not cause breast cancer. In fact, both these genes may play a role in preventing cancer. But in women such as Ms. Jolie, there is a specific mutation in the gene or genes.
The genetic mutation occurs when the BRCA genes fail to suppress tumors. A common misconception is that merely having the BRCA genes means that you’ll develop breast cancer. To reiterate, everybody has the BRCA genes—the problem is when the genes don’t work properly.
How Common Is BRCA Gene Mutation?
National Breast Cancer Foundation statistics reveal that one in 400 women carry the genetic mutation. The reason Ms. Jolie decided to undergo a double mastectomy—even though she was not diagnosed with breast cancer—is that 55% to 65% of women with the BRCA1 mutation are estimated to develop breast cancer before age 70. (For the BRCA2 mutation: 45%.)
In comparison, 12% of women without the mutation are likely to develop the condition by age 70.
Ovarian Cancer, The BRCA Mutation & Talcum Powder
Having the BRCA genetic mutation puts women at greater risk for also developing ovarian cancer.
Using talcum powder in the genital area also poses a risk for ovarian cancer. That’s because talc (the terms “talc” and “talcum” are used interchangeably) is a mineral that’s mined from the Earth right next to another mineral that’s a known carcinogen: asbestos. Therefore, when talc mineral is crushed into a powder, asbestos particles can come into contact with the talcum powder.
If talcum powder contains even a tiny amount of asbestos and if those asbestos particles enter a woman’s reproductive organs, those microscopic organisms can cause ovarian cancer.
To date, over 20,000 women and their families have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson, alleging that the company’s talc contained asbestos and caused them to develop ovarian cancer.
Moreover, the lawsuits allege that the company (which discontinued selling talcum baby powder last May) knew for decades that its talc powder could become contaminated with asbestos.
(Read this scathing Reuters investigation to learn more about Johsnon & Johnson’s attempts to keep its tainted talc a secret.)
Can Women With The BRCA Mutation File A Talc Lawsuit?
The truth is that it’s very difficult for women with the mutation to claim that they developed ovarian cancer because of asbestos-tainted talcum powder. Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson will likely assert that it’s the mutation that caused the cancer, not the product.
Recently, Johnson & Johnson announced it would settle 1,000 talc lawsuits for $100 million.
To determine if you are eligible to file a talc lawsuit, contact a qualified attorney or law firm.