An alarming message about deodorant use and breast cancer began circulating on the Internet in the 1990s. It continues to resurface now and again and causes a great deal of concern about the safety of items many of us use every day. So let's take a look at the evidence.
The initial claim about breast cancer and antiperspirant use was largely unsubstantiated and actually began circulating prior to any serious medical or scientific research on the matter. In response to the quickly and widely spreading rumors, researchers started to conduct studies in an attempt to put to rest what many believed to be an unfounded fear.
There are now a number of published studies on the topic, but the research has by no means been exhaustive. The good news is that the weight of evidence suggests there is not a causal link between using deodorants or antiperspirants and developing breast cancer. But if you're the cautious type and would rather be safe than sorry, there are ways to err on the side of caution while researchers continue to investigate the issue.
What the Research Reveals
One of the first and largest observational studies on the topic found no relationship between antiperspirant use and the risk of breast cancer. The 2002 study involved more than 1,500 women, and its conclusions were comforting to many.
But then, in 2003, a survey of about 400 women with breast cancer reignited the issue when results revealed that the women who had regularly used antiperspirants and also had frequently shaved their underarms tended to have been diagnosed with breast cancer at an earlier age than the women who had not. However, the study looked only at women who already had breast cancer. Without comparing their habits to those of women who don't have breast cancer, no conclusions about cause or increased risk can be drawn.
More recently, a 2008 review analyzed results from 19 studies on the topic and found no scientific evidence that using deodorants or antiperspirants increased the risk of breast cancer.
Chemicals and Metals in Cosmetics
Some of the anxiety over antiperspirant use may have developed due to concerns about two of the ingredients in these products.
A study in the 1970s found that breast cancer tumors contain trace amounts of several metals, including aluminum. Aluminum salts are an ingredient in some antiperspirants. Also, traces of parabens -- chemical preservatives used in cosmetic products, including some deodorants and antiperspirants -- have been found in tumor samples taken from breast cancer patients.
These findings, however, do not prove that either aluminum or parabens were the cause of, or played any role in, the development of the tumors.
Researchers continue to investigate potential links between these ingredients and increased cancer risk, but the evidence to date does not support the claim that using products with parabens or aluminum salts raises the risk of developing breast cancer.
Precautions You Can Take
If you prefer to remain cautious while research continues, choose your antiperspirants and deodorants and other personal care products carefully. Check the labels, and avoid those that contain aluminum or parabens (listed as methyl, ethyl, propyl, or butyl parabens). Fortunately, most leading antiperspirant and deodorant brands are paraben-free. And, increasingly, stores are carrying antiperspirants and deodorants that are free of both parabens and aluminum.
Put the Risk in Perspective
Watching your weight, getting adequate exercise, eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, and limiting your alcohol consumption can all help reduce your risk of breast cancer. Also, scheduling regular breast cancer screenings is another simple step you can take to actively patrol your health.