Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer: Questions and Answers
- There is no conclusive research linking the use of underarm antiperspirants
or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer (see
- Research studies of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and breast
cancer have been completed and provide conflicting results (see
- Can antiperspirants or deodorants cause breast cancer?
Articles in the press and on the Internet have warned that underarm antiperspirants
(a preparation that reduces underarm sweat) or deodorants (a preparation
that destroys or masks unpleasant odors) cause breast cancer (1). The reports have suggested that these products contain harmful
substances, which can be absorbed through the skin or enter the body through
nicks caused by shaving. Some scientists have also proposed that certain
ingredients in underarm antiperspirants or deodorants may be related to
breast cancer because they are applied frequently to an area next to the
breast (2, 3).
However, researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a part of
the National Institutes of Health, are not aware of any conclusive evidence
linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent
development of breast cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),
which regulates food, cosmetics, medicines, and medical devices, also does
not have any evidence or research data that ingredients in underarm antiperspirants
or deodorants cause cancer.
- What do scientists know about the ingredients in
antiperspirants and deodorants?
Aluminum-based compounds are used as the active ingredient in antiperspirants.
These compounds form a temporary plug within the sweat duct that stops the
flow of sweat to the skin's surface. Some research suggests that aluminum-based
compounds, which are applied frequently and left on the skin near the breast,
may be absorbed by the skin and cause estrogen-like (hormonal) effects (3).
Because estrogen has the ability to promote the growth of breast cancer
cells, some scientists have suggested that the aluminum-based compounds
in antiperspirants may contribute to the development of breast cancer (3).
Some research has focused on parabens, which are preservatives used in
some deodorants and antiperspirants that have been shown to mimic the activity
of estrogen in the body’s cells (4). Although parabens are used in
many cosmetic, food, and pharmaceutical products, according to the FDA,
most major brands of deodorants and antiperspirants in the United States
do not currently contain parabens. Consumers can look at the ingredient
label to determine if a deodorant or antiperspirant contains parabens. Parabens
are usually easy to identify by name, such as methylparaben, propylparaben,
butylparaben, or benzylparaben. The National Library of Medicine’s
Household Products Database also has information about the ingredients used
in most major brands of deodorants and antiperspirants. This database is
available at http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/index.htm on the Internet.
The belief that parabens build up in breast tissue was supported by a 2004
study, which found parabens in 18 of 20 samples of tissue from human breast
tumors (5). However, this study did not prove that parabens cause breast
tumors (4). The authors of this study did not analyze healthy breast tissue
or tissues from other areas of the body and did not demonstrate that parabens
are found only in cancerous breast tissue (5). Furthermore, this research
did not identify the source of the parabens and cannot establish that the
buildup of parabens is due to the use of deodorants or antiperspirants.
More research is needed to specifically examine whether the use of deodorants
or antiperspirants can cause the buildup of parabens and aluminum-based
compounds in breast tissue. Additional research is also necessary to determine
whether these chemicals can either alter the DNA in some cells or cause
other breast cell changes that may lead to the development of breast cancer.
- What have scientists learned about the relationship
between antiperspirants or deodorants and breast cancer?
In 2002, the results of a study looking for a relationship between breast
cancer and underarm antiperspirants/deodorants were reported (6).
This study did not show any increased risk for breast cancer in women who
reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant. The results also
showed no increased breast cancer risk for women who reported using a blade
(nonelectric) razor and an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant, or for
women who reported using an underarm antiperspirant or deodorant within
1 hour of shaving with a blade razor. These conclusions were based on interviews
with 813 women with breast cancer and 793 women with no history of breast
Findings from a different study examining the frequency of underarm shaving
and antiperspirant/deodorant use among 437 breast cancer survivors were
released in 2003 (7). This study found that the age of breast cancer diagnosis
was significantly earlier in women who used these products and shaved their
underarms more frequently. Furthermore, women who began both of these underarm
hygiene habits before 16 years of age were diagnosed with breast cancer
at an earlier age than those who began these habits later. While these results
suggest that underarm shaving with the use of antiperspirants/deodorants
may be related to breast cancer, it does not demonstrate a conclusive link
between these underarm hygiene habits and breast cancer.
In 2006, researchers examined antiperspirant use and other factors among
54 women with breast cancer and 50 women without breast cancer. The study
found no association between antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer;
however, family history and the use of oral contraceptives were associated
with an increased risk of breast cancer (8).
Because studies of antiperspirants and deodorants and breast cancer have
provided conflicting results, additional research is needed to investigate
this relationship and other factors that may be involved.
- Where can someone get more information on breast
People who are concerned about their breast cancer risk are encouraged
to talk with their doctor. More information about breast cancer risk can
be found on the NCI's Cancer Risk: Understanding the Puzzle Web site. This
interactive Web site, which includes information about how to reduce breast
cancer risk, can be accessed at http://understandingrisk.cancer.gov on the
U.S. residents may wish to contact the NCI's Cancer Information Service
(CIS) (see below) with any remaining questions or concerns about breast
cancer. Inquirers who live outside the United States may wish to contact
the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) for information about a resource
in their country. The UICC Web site is located at http://www.uicc.org on
the Internet. Also, some countries have organizations that offer services
similar to those of the U.S. CIS. A list of international cancer information
services can be found at http://www.icisg.org/meet_memberslist.htm#full
on the Internet.
- Jones J. Can rumors cause cancer? Journal of the National Cancer Institute
- Darbre PD. Underarm cosmetics and breast cancer. Journal of Applied
Toxicology 2003; 23(2):89–95.
- Darbre PD. Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer.
Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry 2005; 99(9):1912–1919.
- Harvey PW, Everett DJ. Significance of the detection
of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours. Journal
of Applied Toxicology 2004; 24(1):1–4.
- Darbre PD, Aljarrah A, Miller WR, et al. Concentrations
of parabens in human breast tumours. Journal of Applied Toxicology
- Mirick DK, Davis S, Thomas DB. Antiperspirant use and
the risk of breast cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute
- McGrath KG. An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis
related to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving.
European Journal of Cancer 2003; 12(6):479–485.
- Fakri S, Al-Azzawi A, Al-Tawil N. Antiperspirant use
as a risk factor for breast cancer in Iraq. Eastern Mediterranean Health
Journal 2006; 12(3-4):478–482.
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For more help, contact:
- NCI's Cancer Information Service
(toll-free): 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237)
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