Do deodorants cause breast cancer?

Sanjay Tanday looks into recent reports linking deodorant use to breast cancer.

WHAT IS THE STORY?
A potential link has been identified between using deodorants and developing breast cancer, according to media reports.

UK researchers have identified high levels of aluminium in breast tissue taken from women with breast cancer who had undergone mastectomies.

Aluminium, which has been linked to cancer by earlier studies, is used in antiperspirants to stop the skin from sweating.

However, the study could not prove conclusively that the high levels of aluminium found in breast tissue came from deodorant use, say the papers.

Aluminium is naturally abundant and found in water, food, pharmaceuticals and many other consumer products.

Additionally, the researchers could not rule out the possibility that tumours may attract the aluminium naturally found in breast tissue rather than the metal being the cause of the tumour.

In 2004, researchers from Reading University suggested that deodorants could raise the risk of cancer because they contained oestrogen-mimicking chemicals called parabens. The claim was quickly rejected after it was revealed that parabens were around 10,000 times weaker than oestrogen and could not cause cancer.

WHAT IS THE RESEARCH?
The reports are based on a UK study, which involved measuring the aluminium content of breast tissue taken from a sample of 17 women with breast cancer. Each patient had undergone a mastectomy and biopsies from four different regions of the breast were collected for analysis of aluminium content. The mean concentration of aluminium was found to be roughly the same in each patient.However, a clear trend in the distribution of aluminium across the breast was identified.

Aluminium content was significantly higher in the outer breast tissue region, 57nmol/g, compared to the inner breast region, 46nmol/g. But no significant differences were found in aluminium levels in different regions of breast fat.

WHAT DO THE RESEARCHERS SAY?
Lead researcher Dr Chris Exley, from the department of bioinorganic chemistry at the University of Keele, said: 'Our research shows that the area of the breast which is known to have the highest incidence of tumours in breast cancer also had the highest concentration of tissue aluminium.'

Higher content of aluminium in the outer breast might be explained by proximity to the underarm where the highest density of deodorant application could be assumed, he said.

'There is evidence that skin is permeable to aluminium when applied as antiperspirant. However, we have no direct evidence that the aluminium measured in these breast biopsies originated from antiperspirant. It may be linked to the biochemistry of tumour tissue,' he added.

WHAT OTHER RESEARCHERS SAY?
Henry Scowcroft, Cancer Research UK's senior scientific officer, said: 'This research examined the distribution of aluminium in breast tissue samples from just 17 women with breast cancer. It did not compare distribution of aluminium around their bodies, nor with healthy individuals. As such its findings do not in any way demonstrate that aluminium contained in deodorants can affect breast cancer risk.'

Studies of large groups of people have failed to show a difference in cancer risk between people who use deodorant and people who do not, he said.

'Breast cancers are indeed more common in the upper outer region of the breast. But this is likely to be because this area contains the most breast tissue.'

Dr Sarah Cant, information officer at the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: 'There is no evidence to suggest that either deodorant use or exposure to aluminium can increase the risk of developing cancer.'

Causes of breast cancer are unknown for the majority of the 44,000 women diagnosed each year in the UK, she added.

INFORMING PATIENTS

  • High levels of aluminium, possibly from deodorant use, have been found in breast tissue taken from 17 women with breast cancer.
  • Aluminium concentration is higher in outer breast tissue, near the underarms, than inner breast tissue.
  • Larger studies are needed before deodorant use could be conclusively linked to breast cancer.

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