Scare stories have abounded in the press over the past few years about the possible link between using antiperspirants or deodorants and developing breast cancer. But what is the basis for these stories and is there cause for concern?
Breast cancer is the biggest cause of death for UK women aged between 34 and 54 years and is the most common form of cancer, with nearly 42,000 cases of the disease diagnosed.
Scientists are therefore keen to test for possible causes and determine what factors may play a part in the formation of cancerous cells within breast tissue.
What is the Link between Breast Cancer and Deodorants?
The link between breast cancer and deodorants came about mainly due to two studies which looked at the incidence of breast cancer amongst deodorant-using women.
Both studies were inconclusive, small, and criticised on a number of levels. Nevertheless, the media reported the possible connection and it is now raised in the public consciousness.
What Is the Difference Between Deodorants And Anti-perspirants?
A deodorant is designed to neutralise the odour of perspiration but does not prevent it from taking place.
An antiperspirant is designed to block or ‘clog’ pores and thus disable the sweat-glands so that perspiration is prevented.
Theories Of Cancer Links
One theory put forward was that since antiperspirants prevent sweating from taking place, the body is not able to get rid of toxins properly; they therefore build up near the breast tissue and contribute to the formation of cancerous cells.
However, scientists refute this theory as a non-starter, making the point that the act of perspiration is designed primarily to cool the body rather to excrete toxins from it and that the liver and kidneys will provide this function far more effectively.
Another worry was due to chemicals called parabens which are used in the cosmetic industry as preservatives. When testing women with breast cancer for a small study, researchers found parabens to be present in the breast tissue and there was therefore a causal link made between products containing parabens being used near the breasts, and cancer.
Nevertheless, although more work will be done, there is as yet no evidence that parabens are carcinogenic, or that they are arriving in breast tissue directly from antiperspirant and deodorant products. They do persist in the environment and could be entering the body in other ways. Also many deodorant products do not contain parabens.
The Aluminium Debate
A more prevalent discussion when it comes to the link between deodorants and cancer has been whether aluminium deposits contained in such products could be ‘poisoning’ the body.
Antiperspirants contain aluminium salts because they are good at helping the body not to sweat and when cancer patients were analysed, aluminium metal was found in the outer part of the breast nearest the armpit – the conclusion being that it had got there via the use of sprays, sticks and roll-on’s.
While aluminium has been associated with cancer in animals and concerns have been raised over its use in cosmetic products, once again a lot more research needs to be conducted before any direct link can be made to breast cancer in humans.
What The Cancer Experts Say
While the studies carried out connecting breast cancer with the presence of parabens and aluminium in breast tissue are interesting, experts say that as yet there is not enough proof to suggest that women can be put at risk by using anti-perspirants and deodorants.
They state that the main risk factors for breast cancer are genetics (whether there is a history of the disease in your family), reproductive history, and age.
However, if you are worried, then choose products which are paraben and aluminium free.
One breast cancer charity, Breakthrough, is backing a long-running, large-scale research project which will span up to 50 years to help determine the causes of breast cancer and from which can be drawn.