Concerns about the link between aluminum in antiperspirants and breast cancer have led some women to abandon their preferred morning routines. However, a decade of research has yet to show a conclusive link between the two. Learn what science knows so far about this common personal hygiene product.
How Antiperspirants Work
Unlike deodorants, which mask body odor, antiperspirants actually reduce the amount that you sweat. The active ingredient in most formulas is aluminum salts, which bind to the sweat ducts in your skin, forming a plug that prevents sweat from exiting. Aluminum salts don’t stop you from sweating entirely, but they do reduce perspiration by about 20 to 30 percent.
Concern Over Extra Estrogen
The cause for concern arises from two types of aluminum salts, aluminium chloride and aluminium chlorhydrate, which may interfere with estrogen receptors, according to a 2005 report published by the Journal of Inorganic Chemistry. The worry is that aluminum may cause an increase in estrogen levels, which elevates a women’s risk for developing breast cancer. However, many questions remain, including how much aluminum is absorbed through the skin, whether absorbed aluminum concentrates in breast tissue and if high aluminum levels actually result in a greater incidence of malignant tumors.
Looking for Aluminum
A 2001 study published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology Journal indicates that skin does absorb aluminum salts, but only in very small amounts. The findings show that only four micrgrams of aluminium chlorohydrate are absorbed through the skin in a single application. This rate is far lower than the levels absorbed in the stomach from food, suggesting that antiperspirants are only a minuscule portion of aluminum found in the body.
Attempts to measure the aluminum levels in the breast tissue of breast cancer patients yields contradictory results. According to a 2011 study by Dr. Philippa Darbrethe, the same author of the 2005 report, aluminum levels in nipple fluid are higher in breast cancer patients than in the control group. However, a 2013 study by Rodrigues-Peres RM found no difference in aluminum levels between healthy breast tissue and malignant breast tumors.
A Lack of Correlation
Several large studies have been unable to show a correlation between women who use antiperspirants and those who develop breast cancer. The largest such study, conducted in 2002, interviewed over 1,500 women, roughly half of whom were breast cancer survivors and half of whom were not. The results show no connection between breast cancer rates and those women who used antiperspirants or, in fact, deodorants of any kind. In fact, the cancer survivors were slightly less likely to report using antiperspirant regularly, with approximately 50 percent of survivors compared to 56 percent of the control group.
Experts Weigh In
The research convinces most cancer experts that cause for alarm is unfounded and that women should feel free to use antiperspirants if they choose. The National Cancer Institute has gone on the record to say that “there is no conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer.” The American Cancer Society agrees, saying that “no clear link has been made between antiperspirants containing aluminum and breast cancer.”
Experts recommend that women focus on proven ways to lower their risk. According to the American Cancer Society, diet, body weight and exercise all show correlations with lower incidence, particularly in women who eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Regular mammograms improve outcomes by catching breast cancer early and are recommended for women ages 50 and over.
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