January 13, 2012
“Chemical found in deodorants, face cream and food products is discovered in tumours of ALL breast cancer patients”, reported the Daily Mail. The newspaper said that the chemical, which is widely used as a preservative in cosmetics, has been found in tissue samples of 40 women with breast cancer.
The headline is based on a laboratory study that investigated how a group of chemicals called parabens are deposited in human tissue. It examined the distribution of five types of paraben at four different parts of the breast in tissue samples from 40 women who had undergone a mastectomy due to breast cancer. The researchers detected parabens in 99% of the samples. They also found differences in the concentrations of individual parabens and where they were predominantly located in the breast.
This analysis only looked at tissue taken from 40 women with breast cancer and did not compare them with tissue samples from women who had not had cancer. It does not prove that parabens caused these cancers, and it does not suggest that parabens have any association with breast cancer development. The study found that all 40 women with breast cancer had parabens in their breast tissue, but it is not known whether this would be the case in all women with breast cancer. It is also not known whether parabens would be found in the breast tissue of all women (including those with healthy breast tissue) and men.
The potential link between cosmetic chemicals and cancers will continue to be investigated. Many factors are known to increase the risk of breast cancer, and as the researchers conclude, it is unlikely that any single chemical would be a dominant risk factor.
Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Reading and was funded by Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention Appeal. It was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Toxicology.
The Daily Mail exaggerated the implications of this finding. Parabens were found in all breast cancer samples tested, but it is not known whether this is representative of all breast cancers. Parabens may be present in the breast tissue of all women and just as prevalent in women with healthy breast tissue as those with cancer. Indeed, the authors cite earlier research that found parabens in 100% of urine samples from children and pregnant women.