Breast Cancer and the Aluminum Link

Urban Legend or the Real Thing?

Remember those e-mail forwards about antiperspirants being a leading cause of breast cancer? While some of us were frightened enough to stop using the stuff, the more suspicious among us raced to look it up on hoping to find that the latest scare was no more than an urban legend. Snopes didn’t give us a clear-cut answer, since the medical community is divided on this issue. Now, a new study finds that aluminum is found in higher concentrations in the outer regions of the breast, in close proximity to the underarm, where antiperspirant is applied.

There has been some research which suggests a link between breast cancer and the use of aluminum-based antiperspirants. A higher incidence of tumors in the upper outer quadrant of the breast supports this idea. Still, researchers have not been able to identify a mechanism that explains antiperspirant-induced breast cancer.

Dr Chris Exley of the Birchall Centre for Inorganic Chemistry and Materials at Keele University in the UK led a team who measured the aluminum content in the breast tissue of 17 breast cancer patients in Manchester, England. It is still unknown whether or not the differences in the distribution of aluminum in breast tissue are related to the greater incidence of tumors in this region of the breast.

Nicks in the skin caused by shaving might provide entry to aluminum salts which have long been implicated in cancer and other diseases and are a major component of antiperspirants. Daily application of such preparations would result in the presence of aluminum in the tissue of the underarm and surrounding areas but little research has been done on aluminum in breast tissue. Breast cancer research does suggest a link to environmental factors.

No Direct Evidence

Participants in the study had all undergone mastectomy as well as biopsies from four different regions of the breast. While concentrations of aluminum varied from patient to patient, all showed a higher concentration of aluminum in the outer region of the breast. A report, published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry stated, “There is evidence that skin is permeable to aluminum when applied as antiperspirant. However, we have no direct evidence that the aluminum measured in these breast biopsies originated from antiperspirant.”

Researchers have not ruled out an alternative explanation that such tissue may act as a kind of “sink” for systemic aluminum from other sources but state that aluminum in breast tissue may contribute to breast cancer.

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