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Deodorants, antiperspirants and breast cancer

The question about deodorants, antiperspirants and breast cancer keeps coming up because an email has been circulating for a few years now saying that antiperspirant is a major cause of breast cancer. But there is no convincing evidence to support this claim.

The email says that antiperspirant stops poisons (toxins) being removed from the body in sweat and so they build up in the lymph glands under the arm and cause a breast cancer. There are quite a few misunderstandings in this statement. Many women diagnosed with breast cancer are found to have cancer cells in the lymph glands under the arm. Sometimes, an enlarged lymph gland is the first symptom. But the cancer starts in the breast cells – usually those lining the tubes (ducts) inside the breast. Cancer cells can break away from the tumour in the breast and travel through the lymphatic system to the lymph glands under the arm. The cancer has not started in these lymph glands.

Since this email began to circulate, research has been published that compared breast cancer rates in women who use deodorants, antiperspirants and underarm shaving products with breast cancer rates in women who don't use them. This study matched women who'd had breast cancer with women of similar ages and circumstances who hadn't. It also investigated the possible risk of applying products within an hour of shaving. 1,500 women were included. No increased risk of breast cancer was found with either deodorant or antiperspirant use, whether the products were applied within an hour of shaving or not.

In 2008 the results were published of an overview of 19 studies looking into whether parabens and aluminium salts could cause breast cancer. Parabens and aluminium salts are found in many cosmetics and underarm deodorants. The researchers found no evidence that parabens or aluminium salts cause breast cancer.

There is much more information about the causes of breast cancer and what you can do to help prevent breast cancer in the section about breast cancer.

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Updated: 1 May 2013