Fact Friday: Antiperspirants & Breast Cancer Risk

For several years a rumors have spread through email chain letters and on websites that there is a link between the use of antiperspirants and an increased risk for breast cancer.

The main claims include:

  • Cancer-causing substances in antiperspirants are absorbed through razor nicks from underarm shaving.
  • Most breast cancers develop in the upper outer quadrant of the breast because that area is closest to the lymph nodes exposed to antiperspirants.
  • Men have a lower risk of breast cancer because they do not shave their underarms, and their underarm hair keeps chemicals in antiperspirants from being absorbed.

Based on studies, these claims are largely untrue.

Some often asked questions about the link between breast cancer risk and the use of antiperspirants include:

Do antiperspirants increase a person’s risk of breast cancer?

There are no strong epidemiologic studies in the medical literature that link breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, and very little scientific evidence to support this claim.

Does using antiperspirant after shaving allow chemicals to enter the body from the armpit and increase breast cancer risk?

Razor nicks may increase the risk of skin infection. If the underarm skin is already broken or infected, it is possible that some antiperspirants could cause slight irritation. But it is unlikely that this is a major source of carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) that get into the body and reach the breast cells.

Should I be concerned about parabens?

Parabens are chemicals used as preservatives and as food additives. They can be found in many types of make-up (like lipstick, mascara, concealer, and foundation) and skin care products (like lotion, shaving products, and sunscreen). Parabens can be absorbed through the skin.

Intake of parabens is a possible concern because studies have shown that parabens have weak estrogen-like properties. Estrogen is a female hormone known to cause breast cells (both normal and cancerous) to grow and divide. And some conditions that increase the body’s exposure to estrogen (like not having children, late menopause, obesity, etc.) have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Although at this time there are no clear health risks from parabens in food, drugs, cosmetics, and skin care products, people concerned about exposure to parabens can avoid products containing them. (Source page dated Oct 14, 2014.)

Should I be concerned about aluminum in antiperspirants?

Aluminum-based compounds are the active ingredients in antiperspirants. They block the sweat glands to keep sweat from getting to the skin’s surface.

But it isn’t clear that much aluminum is absorbed through the skin.

At this point, no clear link has been made between antiperspirants containing aluminum and breast cancer. (Source page dated Oct 14, 2014)

Are men less likely to get breast cancer because antiperspirant gets caught in their underarm hair and is not absorbed by their skin?

Men are much less likely than women to develop breast cancer, mostly because men have much less breast tissue than women. Women have about 100 times more breast tissue than men and are about 100 times more likely to develop breast cancer.

Why does my doctor tell me not to use antiperspirant or deodorant on the day of my mammogram?

You are asked to not use antiperspirant or deodorant on the day you get a mammogram because many of these products contain aluminum. This metal can show up on a mammogram as tiny specks. These specks can look like microcalcifications, which are one of the things doctors look for as a possible sign of cancer. Not using these products helps prevent any confusion when the mammogram films are reviewed.

How can I learn more about breast cancer risk factors and ways to find breast cancer early, when treatment works best?

Women concerned about breast cancer can learn about risk factors for breast cancer and possible strategies to reduce breast cancer risk in Breast Cancer Risk and Prevention.

You can also talk to your doctor, nurse, or other health care providers. The American Cancer Society has information about all aspects of breast cancer, from causes and prevention, to diagnosis and treatment. Contact us at 1-800-227-2345 or visit our website, http://www.cancer.org.

To learn more about each question listed above as well as the research that has been conducted, please visit the following pages: Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk and Antiperspirants/ Deodorants and Breast Cancer.