Do Deodorants Cause Breast Cancer?

Breast tissue commonly contains at least one paraben

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If you use deodorant or cosmetics, you've been exposed to parabens. This preservative is used in a number of products, including pharmaceuticals and even some foods. So are these chemicals linked to cancer - particularly breast cancer?

Recently published research out of England found parabens in the breast tissue of all study participants, including women who had never used underarm deodorants.

That leaves the question, where do these chemicals come from and how do they end up in breast tissue?

"Don't be shy or embarrassed to ask your doctor any question."

A collaborative study was directed by Dr. Philippa Darbre of the University of Reading, and Lester Barr from the University Hospital of South Manchester. 

Researchers found at least one paraben in breast tissue samples taken from 40 women who were undergoing mastectomies between 2005-2008.

A total of four tissue samples from each woman were collected from various areas including the axilla, closest to the armpit. Nearly all samples - 99 percent - had at least one paraben, and 60 percent had five types of the chemical.   

There's been a concern about parabens since 1998 because these chemicals have estrogenic properties. Estrogen fuels most breast cancers.

Scientists thought there might be a link because so many breast cancers are found in the upper outer quadrant of the breast. It's thought that the estrogenic compounds found in parabens used in underarm deodorants may be contributing to the disease.

However, this is not so.

"Our study appears to confirm the view that there is no simple cause and effect relationship between parabens in underarm products and breast cancer" said Barr, consultant surgeon at the University Hospital of South Manchester and Chairman of the Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention Appeal, which helped to fund the study.

These findings leave unanswered questions, though. Where do these chemicals come from and how do they wind up in the breast tissue?

"This study should give some reassurance to women concerned that underarm products such as deodorants may cause breast cancer," Adam Brufsky, M.D., Ph.D, professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told dailyRx. "While this study needs to be confirmed and expanded, the cause and effect relationship of parabens and breast cancer may not be all that robust," Dr. Brufsky said.

The study found that the parabens were present in miniscule proportions - one billionth of a gram of parabens per gram of breast tissue. One type of paraben - n-propylparaben - was found in the highest levels. And this form was found in significantly higher levels closest to the armpit  than in other areas of the breast.

Dr. Darbre, reader in oncology at the University of Reading, says that while there's no direct link, "the fact that parabens were present in so many of the breast tissue samples does justify further investigation."

This study was published in January, 2012 in the Journal of Applied Toxicology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 11, 2012
Last Updated:
January 11, 2012