Cosmetic chemicals found in breast tumours
Preservative chemicals found in samples of breast tumours probably
came from underarm deodorants,
UK scientists have claimed.
Their analysis of 20 breast tumours found
high concentrations of para-hydroxybenzoic acids (parabens)
in 18 samples. Parabens can mimic the hormone estrogen,
which is known to play a role in the development of breast cancers.
The preservatives are used in many cosmetics and some foods
to increase their shelf-life.
"From this research it is not possible to say whether parabens
actually caused these tumours, but they may certainly be associated
with the overall rise in breast cancer cases," says Philip
Harvey, an editor of the Journal of Applied Toxicology,
which published the research.
"Given that breast cancer is the largest killer of women
and a very high percentage of young women use underarm deodorants,
I think we should be carrying out properly funded, further investigations
into parabens and where they are found in the body," Harvey
The new research was led by molecular biologist Philippa
Darbre, at the University of Reading. She says that the
ester-bearing form of parabens found in the tumours indicates
it came from something applied to the skin, such as an underarm
deodorant, cream or body spray. When parabens are eaten, they
are metabolised and lose the ester group, making them less strongly
"One would expect tumours to occur
evenly, with 20 per cent arising in each of the five areas of
the breast," Darbre told New Scientist. "But these
results help explain why up to 60 per cent of all breast tumours
are found in just one-fifth of the breast - the upper-outer
quadrant, nearest the underarm."
However, Chris Flower, director general of the Cosmetic,
Toiletry and Perfumery Association, challenged the study's findings.
"There are almost no deodorants and body sprays that contain
parabens," he says. "Although they are in most other
creams and cosmetics, the safety margin is huge and they would
not have any effect on enhancing growth of new tumours."
Darbre replies that deodorants and antiperspirants have
only stopped containing parabens in the last few months and
that the tumours she studied occurred prior to this.
A small survey by New Scientist of three British high street
shops and one supermarket found deodorants in each that contained
parabens, although most of these products did not. However,
many other products used under the arm commonly contained parabens,
such as body sprays, hair removal creams and shaving gels. Body
lotions, face creams, cleansers and shampoos also frequently
Previously published studies have shown that
parabens are able to be absorbed through the skin and to bind
to the body's estrogen-receptors, where they can encourage
breast cancer cell growth.
But Flower maintains that the amount of parabens absorbed by
the skin is very low and the parabens are "metabolised
by the skin cells to produce products that have no estrogenic
Darbre's research did not look at the concentrations
of parabens in other areas of the breast or body tissues and
Harvey cautions that the significance of the chemicals in tumour
tissue should not be over-interpreted. Darbre says
she has not used cosmetic products, including underarm deodorants,
for eight years. She recommends that other women do the same
"until their safety can be established".
Journal reference: Journal of Applied Toxicology (vol