MT Weekly: Talc-Cancer Link Challenged, Supreme Court To Address Contraception

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MedTruth Weekly delivers the latest developments in medical research, regulation, legislation and legal actions. The best way to be an advocate for yourself is to know the facts. Staying informed starts here.

Landmark Study: No Association Between Powder and Ovarian Cancer

Women’s Health

A study published Jan. 7 in the prestigious medical journal JAMA found no significant association between the genital application of powder and ovarian cancer. Researchers analyzed data from a combined total of 252,745 women from four previous studies, making this the largest study of its kind according to NPR. Women reported the frequency and length of their powder use, which could have been talcum powder, cornstarch, or both. Women who’d ever used powder had an 8% increase in ovarian cancer over those who’d never used powder. That translates to a 0.09% greater chance of ovarian cancer by age 70 which is not considered “statistically significant.”

As noted by Cancer Health, a larger cohort focusing only on women who have not had their uterus and fallopian tubes removed might alter results and accuracy. Additional limitations include racial demographics, frequency of powder use, and type of powder used. Researchers studied a predominately white population, despite a much higher use of talcum powder amongst African-American populations.

Talc is mined and often occurs near asbestos, a known carcinogen. Whether Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder contains asbestos — and whether it’s caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma — has prompted roaring public controversy and inconsistent verdicts.

In October, Johnson & Johnson recalled 33,000 bottles of baby powder after the Food and Drug Administration found sub-trace levels of asbestos in one bottle. The company currently faces lawsuits from more than 17,000 plaintiffs. In 2018, a St. Louis jury awarded $4.7 billion to 20 women alleging the company’s powder caused their cancers. In 2019, the company prevailed in eight lawsuits and lost five.

Supreme Court Will Weigh Religious Objections to Contraception Requirement

Legal Developments

On Friday the Supreme Court announced it will consider religious and moral exemptions to the Affordable Care Act mandate that private employer health coverage include contraception without co-payment. The Trump Administration and the Catholic charity Little Sisters of the Poor are appealing a July decision by a Third Circuit three-judge panel which upheld a nationwide preliminary injunction. The injunction blocked two “final” rules allowing religious and moral objections to contraceptive coverage issued by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury in November 2018.

First issued as “interim final” rules in October 2017, preliminary injunctions blocking the rules were granted in December 2017, a week apart, by federal judges in Pennsylvania and California presiding over cases filed by Democratic attorneys general from a combined six states.

Mandatory contraceptive coverage has been highly litigated since the provision went into place in 2012, according to HealthAffairs. Houses of worship are not subject to the mandate and religious nonprofits can file an “accommodation” exempting the organization from paying for the contraceptive coverage employees can still obtain.

CDC Screens Air Passengers from China to Prevent Coronavirus Outbreak in U.S.

International

On Wednesday a second death from a respiratory illness caused by a newly identified coronavirus 2019-nCoV was reported in Wuhan, China. On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it would immediately begin screening arriving Wuhan passengers for fever and other flu and cold symptoms at New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) airports. Air traffic from China to the U.S. will peak with an estimated 5,000 Wuhan arrivals as we approach the Jan. 25 Chinese Lunar New Year.

As of Friday, 45 cases of 2019-nCoV were reported in China, two in Thailand and one in Japan. Chinese authorities report that most, but not all, of those infected had visited a market with live animals, suggesting the virus has jumped species but that there may also be some cases of human-to-human transmission. The current risk to Americans is deemed low. However, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a press call Friday that she thought it was “highly plausible” that at least one case could occur in the U.S., as reported by NBC News.

The CDC website states that it’s closely monitoring this “emerging, rapidly evolving situation.”

Binge Drinking: Good News and Bad News

Public Health

On Thursday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a 2011–2017 study of U.S. adult binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four or more drinks on one occasion for women. The percentage of binge drinkers decreased slightly from 18.9% to 18%. However, numbers of drinks consumed annually by binge drinkers rose 12.1%, which the CDC considered a “significant increase.” Increases were pronounced among both genders, those age 35 and older, and those with lower household incomes and educational attainments.

According to the CDC, one in ten adult (age 20–64) deaths involved excessive drinking. People in states with more restrictive alcohol policies are less likely to binge drink and experience harms such as alcohol-attributable motor vehicle crash deaths, alcoholic liver cirrhosis and alcohol-involved homicides and suicides than those in states with less restrictive policies.

By Carah Wertheimer

Carah Wertheimer is a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colorado. Her areas of specialization include food, health, environment, social justice and community reporting. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, The Denver Post, The Daily Beast, the Boulder Daily Camera, Boulder Weekly and other publications.

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