I’ve recently had a daily sponsored post on my Facebook that screams out in red letters “Deodorant Causes Cancer”. It’s been shared thousands of times and has tons of comments – both in support and in dissent.
I decided to reach out to radiation oncologist Dr. Elysia Donovan to see if she could give me some facts about this cancer-causing claim.
“There is currently no clear evidence demonstrating that the use of deodorant or antiperspirant results in an increased risk of breast cancer,” she said. “This claim actually started in the 1990s in a chain email that was circulated, and numerous studies have since examined the link.”
She said the theories behind the claim include the fact that antiperspirants contain aluminum, which can be toxic in large doses, that antiperspirants stop the sweat glands in the underarms from releasing toxins, and the fact that most breast cancer occurs in the upper outer quadrant near the axilla or underarm – all theories that have been debunked.
“In reality, however, aluminum from cosmetic products is absorbed only in very small quantities, a very small portion of toxins are cleared through the body’s sweat glands, and the greatest proportion of breast tissue is in the upper outer quadrant, which causes a proportionate increase in cancers developing in this location.”
Dr. Donovan says that so far, any studies in support of this claim have focused on population-level observations, which fail to account for other factors that may play a role in the development of breast cancer in certain populations.
“For example, one study in 2003 (AMcGrath 2003) indicated women are getting breast cancer at a younger age compared to decades ago, and that younger women are also more likely to wear deodorant than older women, hence there may be a link between the two. It’s yet to be determined why younger women are getting breast cancer, and more research is needed in this area.”
“On the other hand, a recent systematic review (Allam, 2016) found the majority of evidence on this issue was of low quality, and only two case-control studies examining the link between antiperspirants and breast cancer existed,” Dr. Donovan said. “These two studies found no harmful association between breast cancer and antiperspirants/deodorant, and in fact even suggested there may be a protective effect. However, there is again insufficient evidence to support that part of the claim.”
Overall, further research is needed in this area but there is not currently sufficient evidence demonstrating that deodorant or antiperspirants cause breast cancer.
Dr. Donovan said deodorants / antiperspirants causing cancer is one of many misconceptions she hears.
“Wearing a bra and using a razor under the arms are additional myths without any evidence linking them to breast cancer risk at this point in time,” she said.
There are known factors that put a person at higher risk of breast cancer, including excess hormone exposure, a diet high in fat, obesity, excess alcohol consumption, a sedentary lifestyle and a family history of breast cancer.
So, while there’s no need to toss the deodorant and razor, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk, Dr. Donovan said.
“Talk to your primary care physician about your individual risks for breast cancer including both environmental and genetic factors. Follow your physician’s recommendations for screening for cervical, breast and colon cancer.
“Lastly make healthy lifestyle choices that include eating a healthy diet, avoid tobacco and excess alcohol consumption, wearing sunscreen, and staying active.”
Allam MF. Breast Cancer and deodorants/anti-perspirants: A systematic review. 2016. Cent Eur J Public Health. 24(3).245-247.
AMcGrath KG. An earlier age of breast cancer diagnosis related to more frequent use of antiperspirants/deodorants and underarm shaving. Eur J Cancer Prev. 2003. 12(6): 479-85.