Unit 1: Chemicals and Breast Cancer?!
Hi! Welcome to my chemistry blog assignment for Mrs. Casimiro. My name is Kate Reeve.
Unit One of our Gr. 11 Chemistry course discusses the properties of common chemical substances and their impact on our health and our environment. In fact, the chemical compounds studied in class can frequently also be found in household products, such as cleaners, soaps, shampoos, and deodorant. These chemicals, classified as parabens if used as preservatives in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products, are then often absorbed into our skin or breathed into our lungs. Parabens are known to mimic the hormone oestrogen, which can drive the growth of tumours.
Here we'll examine the effects of antiperspirants on breast health. First off, how do antiperspirants even work? Why would they be linked to breast cancer? Well, antiperspirants essentially work by clogging the pores that release sweat under your arms, typically with aluminum salts. These salts account for more than 25% of most antiperspirants. After the product is applied, the chemical is absorbed into breast tissue, often at a rate of 0.012% per application. Seems like nothing, but multiply that by at least one time a day for an entire lifetime and suddenly you've got a staggering amount of aluminum in your boob/bod. Not good, especially as aluminum salts have been proven to act similarly to cancer-causing genes, also known as oncogenes.
Recent research conducted by Dr. Philippa Darbre and later reviewed in the Journal of Applied Toxicology has linked the parabens found in most antiperspirants with an increased risk of breast cancer. This theory (as it has not yet been resolutely proven) hinges on two main points:
1. Breast cancer is on the rise, with more and more cases each year. This corresponds with the societal changes undergone in those same years; namely climbing rates of personal care products containing untested chemicals.
2. The majority of all malignant breast tumours are found in the upper, outer quadrant of the breast; also known as where you apply antiperspirant. As well, more tumours are found in the left breast than the right, which if you think about it, also makes sense. Most people are right-handed, which means they'd likely be able to apply more product to that side than the other unconsciously.
The final evidence is a separate study conducted by Dr. Barr and team, which discovered that ninety-nine percent of breast cancer tissue contains parabens.
However, the authors of the review in the Journal of Applied Toxicology are quick to note that while antiperspirants are a common source of parabens, the source of the parabens cannot be established and that 7 of the 40 patients studied never even used commercial antiperspirants in their lifetime! This means that parabens, regardless of their source, can bioaccumulate in breast tissue.
Think about all the products you use - maybe makeup, moisturizer, deodorant, face wash, hand soap, shower gel, etc. All of those products and applied topically (to your skin), which is, unfortunately, the most efficient way parabens are absorbed. You might be wondering why, if parabens are so bad, are they still being sold to us in simple packages of face soap? Well, believe it or not, the safety of parabens as never actually been proven and the toxic effects of the chemicals on humans has never been thoroughly investigated.
Personally, I find this information to be pretty compelling. It may be circumstantial, but the truth is that there just haven't been enough studies to concretely link parabens and an increased cancer risk. Therefore, in the words of Dr. Harvey and Dr. Everett (two prominent cancer researchers) "[the argument that no evidence linking the two has been proven] provides false assurance by masking the inadequacies of empirical evidence and knowledge." I know antiperspirants can be pretty helpful, but maybe try to use natural, aluminum-free deodorant, for the sake of your health. Even though none of this has been absolutely proven, why risk it?
My questions to you:
A) List some properties of aluminum salts (specifically hydrated ones) and give the chemical formula. Based on what we've learned about chemical properties in class, can you relate any of the properties you found with potential health problems?
B) Why do you think such little research has been done into the relationship between the parabens and cancer?