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Email Rumors
Email Rumor Links Anti-perspirant to Breast Cancer
Article date: 1999/05/21
An email making the rounds falsely links anti-perspirant use with an increased risk of breast cancer. Even if emails seem to come from the most reliable of sources, experts suggest you should always look to the medical evidence. This is what the emailer had to say, followed by the facts.

Email Rumor: I had toxic shock syndrome approximately two years ago from an infected lymph node found under my arm. The infection released toxins throughout my blood stream and caused my liver, kidneys, and lungs to collapse. It was extremely life threatening and I had no idea that this was happening to me. I was told by my doctor before I was released to use only aerosol deodorant and that I should not shave my underarms but to cut the underarm hair with scissors instead of shaving...

Fact: This part of the message could be true. The woman the email is from probably had hidradenitis supurativa, an infection that starts in the sweat glands in the underarm or groin area. This infection can lead to bacteremia (bacteria in the bloodstream) and shock if not treated properly. Shaving with a blade can make an underarm infection worse. It is possible that some anti-perspirants may be slightly irritating to someone recovering from this infection or from underarm surgery.

The email continues: The leading cause of breast cancer is the use of antiperspirant. Yes, ANTIPERSPIRANT. Most of the products out there are an antiperspirant/deodorant combination, so go home and check your labels. Deodorant is fine, antiperspirant is not.

Fact: This is not true. There have been many extremely thorough epidemiological studies of breast cancer risk factors published in medical journals. We are not aware of any among these proving or even suggesting anti-perspirant use as a risk factor for breast cancer, much less the "leading cause" of the disease.

The email also states: The human body has a few areas that it uses to purge toxins; behind the knees, behind the ears, groin area, and armpits. The toxins are purged in the form of perspiration. Antiperspirant, as the name clearly indicates, prevents the body from perspiring, thereby inhibiting it from purging toxins from below the armpits. These toxins do not just magically disappear. Instead, the body deposits them in the lymph nodes below the arms since it cannot sweat them out. This causes a high concentration of toxins and leads to cell mutations: a.k.a. CANCER.

Fact: Lymph nodes clear some toxins from the body. But, they are not released through sweating. The American Cancer Society is not aware of any evidence that shows substances in deodorants or antiperspirants to be toxic or that cause DNA damage that could lead to cancer. Such products are rigorously tested before they can be marketed.

The email states: Nearly all breast cancer tumors occur in the upper outside quadrant of the breast area. This is precisely where the lymph nodes are located.

Fact: About half of breast cancers are in the upper outer quadrant (UOQ). The reason is entirely unrelated to lymph nodes and is because most of the breast tissue is located there. The breast quadrants are not of equal size; the nipple is not in the true center of the breast and a significant amount of breast tissue, called the "axillary tail" extends toward the underarm.

The email concluded: Additionally, men are less likely (but not completely exempt) to develop breast cancer prompted by antiperspirant usage because most of the antiperspirant product is caught in their hair and is not directly applied to the skin. Women who apply antiperspirant right after shaving increase the risk further because shaving causes almost imperceptible nicks in the skin which give the chemicals entrance into the body from the armpit area.

Fact: Men are about 100 times less likely than women to develop breast cancer. This is because they have about 100 times less breast tissue. Hormonal factors also play a role. Deodorants or antiperspirants are not cancer risk factors to men or women. Razor nicks can increase the risk of infection but not cancer.

"There is absolutely no scientific evidence that anti-perspirants cause or even increase a woman's risk for breast cancer," said Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of breast and cervical cancer for the American Cancer Society. "Unfortunately the 'leading' risk factors for breast cancer are things that women cannot do anything about: being a woman, aging, and having a personal or family history of breast cancer."

"The most effective action women can take to protect themselves is to get yearly mammograms beginning at age 40. Although this won't prevent breast cancer, it will give women the best chance of detecting it early when it is easiest to treat," she concluded.

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