Breast Cancer and Deodorant: A Study Lends Credence to the Rumor?

I have a new theory.

If anyone wants to raise awareness of a risk, the very last thing they should ever do is email forward it to everyone they know to raise awareness. You’ve probably been getting emails about the risk of using deodorant or anti-perspirant with chemicals known as parabens for some years now, so much so that maybe you skimmed right over this headline because everyone already read the Snopes page about breast cancer and deodorant.

Parabens are controversial in the personal care product market due to a widespread belief that the chemicals are cancer causing. And while there is no direct evidence of a causal link between parabens and cancer, studies- including a more recent one- have detected parabens in tumors and potentially linked behaviors such as underarm shaving and anti-perspirant use with breast cancer risk.

But some of the most recent data may actually clear deodorants as breast cancer causing even if parabens play a role. Researchers in the UK recently examined tumors from 40 women with breast cancer, again finding traces of parabens in the specimens. Interestingly, seven of the women whose tumors were studied reported not engaging in behaviors such as underarm shaving or the use of deodorant, suggesting that if parabens were a contributing factor, their presence in other products could be just as relevant.

Dr. Philippa Darbre is a cancer researcher at the University of Reading, and she explains:

“The implication is that in these seven nonusers, the paraben measured must have come from another product or products.”

Researchers again point out that while the evidence shows that parabens are absorbed, it does not prove that the parabens are actually causing the cancer. On its website, the American Cancer Society reiterates that there is “no strong epidemiological studies in the medical literature that link breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, and very little scientific evidence to support this claim.”

Vice president emeritus of epidemiology and surveillance research for the American Cancer Society examined the data out of the UK, and noted that “the study merely confirms earlier, smaller studies which detected parabens in breast tissue of women with cancer. It shows that parabens can be absorbed (probably from personal care products) and the underarm deodorant is not the only source.”

Have you altered your grooming habits in response to fears about breast cancer and paraben exposure?