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Deodorants, Shaving Could Cause Breast Cancer

Doctors Disagree On Study

POSTED: 11:33 AM CST January 7, 2004
UPDATED: 12:17 PM CST January 7, 2004

CHICAGO -- In her 10 p.m. Healthwatch story, NBC5's Nesita Kwan reported on a study that claims that women who shave their underarms and use deodorants have a higher risk of breast cancer. The following is an edited transcript.

Kwan: The study was done right here in Chicago and it flies in the face of previous research that showed no connection between deodorants, underarm shaving, and breast cancer. But while it's worth it to report these new results, the experts say there's no reason for women to start panicking about their underarm hygiene habits.

Kwan: It's been an urban legend on the Internet for years -- the claim that most antiperspirants can cause breast cancer. Then, two years ago, a study found no such connection among patients at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. But a Chicago allergist says that study didn't go far enough. St. Joseph's Hospital's Dr. Kris McGrath began his own research 14 years ago after his wife died of breast cancer. Now his study, published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, is the first to find a connection between antiperspirants, underarm shaving, and cancer.

[Shown in video is Dr. McGrath at his desk]

McGrath: The women who performed these underarm habits more aggressively, we call them the maximum group, they had a diagnosis of breast cancer 22 years earlier than the non-users.

[Shown in video are antiperspirants being used]

Kwan: Dr. McGrath believes the culprits in these antiperspirants are the toxins in aluminum salts such as aluminum chlorohydrate. He says they don't normally penetrate the skin enough to cause a problem -- unless the skin is shaven.

[Shown in video is Dr. McGrath]

McGrath: If you disrupt the skin by shaving, it can open up the door, [because] just under the skin is the lymphatic system, which, as we all know, is connected to the breast.

[Shown in video are women receiving mammograms]

Dr. Melody Cobleigh

Kwan: In Dr. McGrath's study, more than 400 Chicago-area breast cancer survivors recalled their lifetime history of using antiperspirants and underarm shaving. Cancer specialist Dr. Melody Cobleigh (pictured, right) of Rush-Presbyterian said that is called a retrospective study -- and it can be a problem.

[Shown in video is Dr. Cobleigh]

Cobleigh -- Patients may have trouble remembering, for example, what age they were when they started using deodorant. I certainly don't remember how old I was.

Kwan: Cobleigh said she is concerned about statistical weaknesses in McGrath's work.

Cobleigh: In terms of changing one's behavior on the basis of a single retrospective study, I certainly don't plan on stopping shaving and decreasing use of antiperspirants anytime soon.

Kwan: Neither the American Cancer Society nor the deodorant companies we contacted say they have seen any evidence for a link with breast cancer. And while we don't necessarily advocate using these products, we thought you might want to know that there are antiperspirants on the market, that you can get at about any drugstore, that do not contain aluminum salts if it is a concern for you.

Copyright 2004 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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