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Are deodorants linked with breast cancer?

Monday 3 September 2007

Researchers have discovered a new link between breast cancer and deodorants newspapers reported today. Tests which had been carried out on women who had mastectomies found high levels of aluminium, an ingredient found in some deodorants, in their breast tissue.

The Daily Express reported that “levels of the metal were increased significantly near to the armpit” while The Daily Telegraph stated that aluminium could make up to “90 per cent of the anti-perspirant part of most products”.

The stories are based upon a small descriptive study of the breast tissue from 17 women who had undergone mastectomies followed by biopsies from different areas of the breast.

This study does not offer any new evidence of a link between breast cancer and deodorant use. Women should not be alarmed by the reports of this study. To date, there is no convincing evidence that the use of deodorants or antiperspirants is linked with breast cancer.

Where did the story come from?

Christopher Exley and colleagues from the Birchall Centre for Inorganic Chemistry, Keele University and other academic institutions in the UK conducted this research. The study was partly funded by The Genesis Appeal, a charitable organisation. The study was published in the medical journal, Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry.

What kind of scientific study was this?

The study was a laboratory analysis of tissue from 17 women from a hospital in Manchester who had undergone mastectomies as part of their treatment for breast cancer.

The researchers used the samples from the women to see how much aluminium there was in the breast tissue and in which areas or ‘regions’ of the breast it occurred. They then compared the aluminium content from the different breast regions.

This was a descriptive report. There were no biopsies taken from women without breast cancer to compare the measurements with and the outcomes of the cancer patients were not measured.

What were the results of the study?

The authors found aluminium in both breast tissue and breast fat. They also found that aluminium content was higher in the outer regions of the breast than in the inner regions.

What interpretations did the researchers draw from these results?

The authors conclude that they have confirmed the presence of aluminium in breast tissue and “its possible regional distribution within the breast”.

What does the NHS Knowledge Service make of this study?

At this is a small study in only 17 women who had mastectomies for breast cancer, the conclusions that can be drawn from this study are limited, particularly in relation to the contribution of deodorants to the risk of breast cancer:

  • The researchers do not compare the amount of aluminium from the breast cancer patients with levels in women who don’t have breast cancer. Therefore, we have no way of knowing whether the levels of aluminium here are different from those in healthy women.
  • The study was small and small studies are inherently less reliable than larger studies. In small studies, statistically significant results are more likely to happen by chance.
  • The researchers do not know whether the women in this study use aluminium-containing deodorants or not, so there is no way of knowing where this aluminium comes from.
  • As the researchers themselves acknowledge “we have no direct evidence that the aluminium measured in these breast biopsies originated from antiperspirant”.

This study does not give any further evidence of a link between deodorant and breast cancer risk. The relationship between deodorant and antiperspirant use has been explored in larger studies of different designs which have found no convincing evidence of a link with cancer. On the basis of this study, women should not be alarmed or believe that the situation has changed.

Sir Muir Gray adds...

I do not see the need for any action on this story.

Analysis by Bazian
Edited by NHS Website

Links to the headlines

Deodorant in breast cancer link.

Daily Mirror, 3 August 2007

Links to the science

Exley C, Charles LM, Barr L, et al.

Aluminium in human breast tissue.

J Inorg Biochem 2007; 101: 1344-1346