CAN EXPOSURE TO CHEMICALS CAUSE BREAST CANCER?

From beauty products to air pollution, we’re exposed to chemicals every day. Everything from deodorant to lipstick contain chemicals that can potentially be harmful to our health – but can they really cause cancer?

UV Chemical Research

Last year, scientists at the National Institutes of Health released a study linking hair dye and chemical straightening to breast cancer. A total of 46,709 women between the ages of 35 and 74, who have sisters who have previously been diagnosed with breast cancer, took part in the study. The women answered questions about their health, lifestyle and demographics. The study concluded that women who use permanent dye are nine per cent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who don’t use hair dye.

Does this mean we should all stop colouring our hair? Prevent Breast Cancer’s researcher Professor Tony Howell says there’s no need to skip the dye, as we are exposed to many things that could increase the risk of breast cancer. He said: “There was no significant relationship between the frequency of use and breast cancer. The findings of the study are consistent with most previous studies, which concluded that there was no elevated risk.”

Some concern stems from the use of cosmetics and beauty products, such as shampoo, face creams, makeup and shower gels, as they are absorbed into the skin. However, there is no strong evidence to prove that there’s a link between breast cancer and the use of cosmetics and toiletries. The UK has strict health and safety laws, so products are heavily regulated to ensure they are safe to be sold.

Deodorant in particular is a worry for many, as there have been rumours circulating for years that it causes cancer. It was suggested that using antiperspirants cause toxins to build up in the lymph glands in the underarms, leading to breast cancer. However, breast cancer starts in the breast and, in some cases, spreads to the lymph nodes – not the other way around. Plus, the bodily system that causes sweating is completely different to the lymph glands. There’s also no conclusive link between aluminium in deodorant and breast cancer risk.

Parabens – chemicals which are often used in products such as sunscreen, deodorants and makeup – are known as ‘endocrine disruptors’, which can mimic oestrogen in the body. A study has previously found traces of parabens in some breast tumours, but as there are many other environmental chemicals that can be found in breast tissue, it’s very difficult to say that any single chemical is a dominant risk factor.

So, should you be scrapping your beauty routine? Although there’s no harm in switching to paraben-free, organic products, there’s no evidence strong enough to point to any products as being a cause of breast cancer. If you’d like to find out more about the risk factors of the disease, we have plenty of information available about causes and risk factors.