Is there any truth in the claim that wearing deodorant can increase breast cancer risk?
Current scientific consensus says there is no evidence of a link to cancer. Cancer charities are adamant that using antiperspirant doesn’t increase breast cancer risk. The US National Cancer Institute says “more research is needed.”
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” says Dr. Philip Harvey, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Applied Toxicology.
The terms deodorant and anti-perspirant are used interchangeably but both these products have a completely different function. Deodorant targets the bacteria to prevent odour but anti-perspirant stops you from sweating altogether.
We sweat, perspire or ‘glow’ for a very good reason. We have two types of sweat glands all over our bodies which act as our own personal air conditioning system. The eccrine glands cool you off by excreting water and salt. The apocrine glands produce a sterile, dilute electrolyte solution which only creates an odour when it comes into contact with bacteria.
The main suspect ingredients in deodorants are aluminium, parabens and phthalates, all of which have an oestrogenic effect. This is of concern because oestrogen is the hormone that fuels the majority of breast cancers.
Many experts argue that chemicals like parabens have ‘weak’ oestrogenic activity. However, Dr. Harvey doesn’t agree: “It is often quoted that parabens are thousands of times less potent than oestrogen in terms of their oestrogenicity. This can be misleading and ignores actual exposures.”
Harvey believes that cosmetic chemicals may “significantly add to oestrogenic burdens.” For example, endocrine disruptors such as aluminium, parabens and phthalates in combination with other oestrogen burdens, such as the use of the contraceptive pill, might well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
A leading British oncologist, Professor Robert Thomas, author of Lifestyle After Cancer, offers the following advice ‘women who have had breast cancer should consider not using antiperspirants. And healthy women should think twice about it, especially those with a strong family history or other risk factors.’
Professor Thomas follows a very level headed approach on the matter: ‘I'm very much aware there is no clear proof anti-perspirants or deodorants cause cancer, but with one in nine women developing the disease, it seems sensible to be cautious and not take unnecessary risks.’
It is really frustrating that there is no conclusive evidence to reassure us either way and somewhat alarming that unless a chemical is proven harmful there will be no regulatory changes. As Professor Thomas suggests we need to adopt a sensible approach.
There are plenty of natural and effective deodorants available but you will need to find one that works for you. Start by looking out for ingredients like bicarbonate of soda which is a natural odour fighter and essential oils which control bacteria growth.
While the jury is still out on the link between deodorant and breast cancer, when it comes to your health, isn’t it always better to be safe than sorry?