Breast Health

Do Parabens Affect Breast Cancer Risk?

Some personal hygiene products contain preservatives called parabens, which have estrogen-like properties. Do these chemicals raise the risk for breast cancer? Experts say more research is needed to know for sure.

Photo of woman applying underarm deodorant

In a small study of 40 women who had mastectomies, British researchers found traces of parabens in 158 of 160 breast tissue samples. They asked the women if they used underarm deodorants or antiperspirants and noted that the chemical was present even in the tissue of women who said they never used underarm products.

Unexpected results

Researcher Philippa Darbre, Ph.D., at the University of Reading in Reading, England, says she was surprised that the amount of parabens in the breast tissue was about four times higher than that found in a 2004 study. That's despite a change in how underarm products are made.

"Since 2004, many manufacturers, although not all, have been removing parabens from the underarm deodorant/antiperspirant products," Dr. Darbre says.

She says that must mean the chemical is making its way into the body from other kinds of personal care products.

More research needed

Dr. Darbre emphasizes that the study results, published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, don't imply cause and effect. Although estrogen is a risk factor for certain kinds of breast cancer, the study doesn't prove that the parabens' estrogen-like effect caused the breast cancer in the women studied.

"I remain as ambivalent as ever about hounding any one chemical," she says. "I feel sure the issue is bigger than one chemical."

For its part, the American Cancer Society (ACS) finds no clear link between deodorants and antiperspirants and breast cancer. On its Web page, the ACS says: "There are no strong epidemiological studies in the medical literature that link breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, and very little scientific evidence to support this claim."

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Cancer Society - Antiperspirants and Breast Cancer Risk

National Cancer Institute - Antiperspirants/Deodorants and Breast Cancer

National Women's Health Information Center - Cosmetics and Your Health

March 2012

Breast Cancer Risk

Any woman may develop breast cancer. But certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing the disease.

These are the most frequently cited lifestyle-related risk factors:

  • Not having children, or having your first child after age 30

  • Using oral contraceptives within the last 10 years

  • Physical inactivity

  • Having more than one alcoholic drink a day

  • Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy after menopause

  • Weight gain and obesity, especially after menopause

Exposure to pesticides, or other chemicals, is currently being examined as a possible risk factor.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Connect with MLH

New Appointments

 Well Ahead Newsletter


Copyright 2014 Main Line Health

Printed from:

The information provided in this Web site is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. All medical information presented should be discussed with your healthcare professional. See additional Terms of Use at For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.