This article is the third part in a series titled ‘Deodorants, Antiperspirants and Your Health’. Please click here to read the first part, click here to read the second part.
Aluminum in Antiperspirants linked to Breast Cancer
Antiperspirants/deodorants are being linked to breast cancer in several studies. This article will look into the link between the aluminum component in antiperspirants and breast cancer. The next article in this series will look at parabens in deodorant and breast cancer.
Breast Cancer at an Earlier Age
McGrath states a scientific article titled ‘An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving’:
The data from this study are consistent with the hypothesis that the degree of antiperspirant/deodorant usage and axillary shaving is associated with an earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis.
The study concludes in part:
…underarm shaving with antiperspirant/deodorant use may play a role in breast cancer. It is not clear which of these components are involved. Reviewed literature insinuates absorption of aluminium salts facilitated by dermal barrier disruption.
The series of events that eventually cause breast cancer can start many years before the symptoms become noticeable. Studies indicate that the chance of developing breast cancer increases when women are exposed to cancer causing agents at a young age. Consequently, young girls that use antiperspirants/deodorants are more likely to develop breast cancer later in life.
However, this does not mean that the use of antiperspirants/deodorants is not harmful when it is used later in life.
The Role of Antiperspirants in Causing Cancer
In the September 2005 issue of the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, Darbre published an article titled “Aluminium, antiperspirants and breast cancer”. Darbre states:
Aluminium is known to have a genotoxic profile, capable of causing both DNA alterations and epigenetic effects, and this would be consistent with a potential role in breast cancer if such effects occurred in breast cells.
Results reported [in this study] demonstrate that aluminium in the form of aluminium chloride or aluminium chlorhydrate can interfere with the function of oestrogen receptors of MCF7 human breast cancer cells both in terms of ligand binding and in terms of oestrogen-regulated reporter gene expression.
Darbre concludes that the application of aluminum containing antiperspirants results in aluminum absorption though the skin. And that the frequent application provides a relevant portion of the aluminum that the body has to deal with.
In another article titled ‘Underarm Cosmetics and Breast Cancer’  Darbre explains that two steps are needed to cause cancer:
1 – DNA has to be damaged, resulting in damaged cells.
2 – Growth promotion of these damaged cells.
There are several ways that DNA could be damaged as a result of using antiperspirants. According to one theory, it is caused by accumulating sweat through the use of antiperspirants. Your body normally exposes of waste products through sweat, the accumulation of these toxic waste products in the armpit can cause damage to the adjacent breast cells.
Another mechanism that can help cause DNA damage is through the aluminum and zirconium salts. It has been shown that aluminum can bind to DNA and change it, resulting in damaged breast cells.
The promotion of the growth of the damaged cells can be caused by another ingredient of antiperspirants / deodorants: parabens. The next article will take a closer look at the relationship between parabens in deodorant and breast cancer.
Darbre states that more research is needed to scientifically prove the link between antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer. She also states that “The nature of the chemicals in these [antiperspirants] and the lack of any advice about safe quantity or frequency of application should be of concern.”
Breast Cancer Location and Antiperspirants/Deodorant
The majority of breast cancers occur in the part of the breast that is the closest to the armpit, where we apply antiperspirants and deodorants. This location is referred to as the Upper Outer Quadrant (UOQ).
However, the relationship between the breast cancer location and antiperspirants/deodorant is disputed. In 2005, Andrew H.S. Lee published the results of a study in ‘The Breast’ . His conclusion is that the “high proportion of upper outer quadrant [cancer] of the breasts is a reflection of the greater amount of breast tissue in this quadrant”. Lee does acknowledge that “[t]here are unresolved questions relating to the toxicological links between underarm cosmetics and breast cancer”, in his conclusion Lee states that his results “cannot disprove the hypothesis that underarm cosmetics cause breast cancer”.
What Lee does not take into account, is that the proportion of breast cancer in the UOQ has been rising steadily with the increased use of antiperspirants and deodorants. In 1926, 31% of breast cancers occurred in the UOQ, in 1947-1967 this percentage increased to 43-48%. Currently the majority of breast cancers occurs in the part of the breast that is the closest to the armpit: 60.7% in 1994.
Furthermore, the majority of UOQ breast cancer cases concern the left breast. One theory is that this is due to the vast majority of right handed people applying more antiperspirant to their left armpit. 
Click for the full-sized image
USA breast cancer incidence and antiperspirant/deodorant sales (Roush et al., 1987; SEER Cancer Incidence Public-Use Database, 2001; US Cosmetic and Toiletries Market, 2001).
The findings of a recent study on the UOQ issue, were published in 2007 in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry. The article titled ‘Aluminium in human breast tissue', shows the results of a study that measured the aluminum content in breast tissue. A small excerpt from this article:
We have confirmed the presence of aluminium in breast tissue and its possible regional distribution within the breast. Higher content of aluminium in the outer breast might be explained by this region’s closer proximity to the underarm where the highest density of application of antiperspirant could be assumed. There is evidence that skin is permeable to aluminium when applied as antiperspirant. However, we have no direct evidence that the aluminium measured in these breast biopsies originated from antiperspirant.
we should not neglect the possibility that aluminium in breast tissue might contribute towards breast cancer.
Several recent and respected studies have shown the relationship between antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer, some of which have been presented to you in this article. Yet all government and (breast) cancer organizations will tell you that antiperspirants are safe, or do they…
The ‘Official’ Version
Reading about Antiperspirants on the FDA website, should make you feel better. The FDA starts reassuring you by giving the ‘Antiperspirant and Cancer’ section the title ‘The Cancer Myth‘. Phew, this article must be wrong after all.
A few quotes from the FDA web page I am referring to:
The rise of the Internet has made it easy for false health claims, scary stories, and rumors to reach millions of people in a matter of minutes. One such myth says that antiperspirants may cause breast cancer.
…the [National Cancer Institute] says that no existing scientific or medical evidence links the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants to the subsequent development of breast cancer. The FDA, the Mayo Clinic, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association agree. Razor nicks may increase the risk of skin infection, but not cancer.
The FDA does not mention the harmful effects of aluminum, but more importantly, the FDA does not state that it found antiperspirants to be harmless. It instead refers to the opinion of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
So lets take a look at what the NCI has to say. The NCI provides a page titled ‘Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer: Questions and Answers‘. A few quotes:
[Question 1:] Can antiperspirants or deodorants cause breast cancer?
[Last part of the answer:] …researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI)… are not aware of any conclusive evidence linking the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants and the subsequent development of breast cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)… also does not have any evidence or research data that ingredients in underarm antiperspirants or deodorants cause cancer.
Notice that there is no conclusive answer to the question. Also, the NCI is referring to the FDA as an authority, while the FDA based its answer on a reference to the NCI.
[Question 2:] What do scientists know about the ingredients in antiperspirants and deodorants?
[Last part of the answer:] …More research is needed to specifically examine whether the use of deodorants or antiperspirants can cause the buildup of parabens and aluminum-based compounds in breast tissue.
[Question 3:] What have scientists learned about the relationship between antiperspirants or deodorants and breast cancer?
[Last part of the answer:] …Because studies of antiperspirants and deodorants and breast cancer have provided conflicting results, additional research is needed to investigate this relationship and other factors that may be involved.
After reading the statements made on the NCI website, it seems wrong for the FDA to refer to this issue as a ‘The Cancer Myth’. Notice that both the FDA and the NCI web page do not tell you that antiperspirants / deodorants are safe.
Another great example of governmental ‘information’, this time in Europe. The study on an earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis , has also been used by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCP), part of the European Commission. The two lines that were devoted to this study are:
Two recent epidemiological studies on the use of underarm cosmetics in relation to breast cancer exist. The authors of these studies could not establish a relationship between the use of underarm deodorants and antiperspirants and the occurrence of breast cancer. 
The quote from the SCCP does not mention the conclusions of the study, instead the SCCP authors determine that the epidemiological study did not establish the mentioned relationship. However, reading the study leaves the reader with a different impression.
This goes to show that one has to be thorough when reading government documents, published studies and – of course – any other information including this article.
As with many health issues, the theories presented in this article are disputed. For many people it is incomprehensible that organizations like the FDA, the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute might be wrong or misleading.
All I will say is that it will be healthier for everybody to reach their own conclusions, rather than blindly adopting the point of view of any organization.
The relationship between the use of antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer has been presented to you.
Do not believe me, but use the references listed below to start your own research. You might not be a doctor, but you probably have more common sense than most.
In short: Control Your Impact on Your Health!
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Please click here to read part four>>
McGrath, K G. “An Earlier Age of Breast Cancer Diagnosis Related to More Frequent Use of Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Underarm Shaving.” European Journal of Cancer Prevention 12 (2003): 479-485. 24 Jan. 2008.
Also Available at: http://www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/pdf/KGM_paper.pdf
Darbre, P D. “Underarm Cosmetics are a Cause of Breast Cancer.” European Journal of Cancer PreEntion 10 (2001): 389-393. 24 Jan. 2008.
Darbre, P D. “Aluminium, Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer.” Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry 99 (2005): 1912-1919. 24 Jan. 2008.
Lee, Andrew H.S. “Why is Carcinoma of the Breast More Frequent in the Upper Outer Quadrant? a Case Series Based on Needle Core Biopsy Diagnoses.” The Breast 14 (2005): 151-152. 27 Jan. 2008.
Exley, Christopher, Lisa M. Charles, Lester Barr, Claire Martin, Anthony Polwart, and Philippa D. Darbre. “Aluminium in Human Breast Tissue.” Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry 101 (2007): 1344-1346. 24 Jan. 2008.
Rados, Carol. United States. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Antiperspirant Awareness: It’s Mostly No Sweat. July-Aug. 2005. 30 Jan. 2008 <http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2005/405_sweat.html#myth>.
United States. National Cancer Institute. U.S. National Institutes of Health. Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer: Questions and Answers. 1 Jan. 2008 <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/AP-Deo>.
Europe. European Commission – Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General. Scientific Committee on Consumer Products. Extended Opinion on Parabens, Underarm Cosmetics and Breast Cancer. 28 Jan. 2005. 30 Jan. 2008 <http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/04_sccp/docs/sccp_o_00d.pdf>.