October is breast cancer awareness month. In addition to joining the parade for hot fuchsia or pinky pink for show of support, it’s an ideal time to learn about the precautionary steps we can take to prevent it. One common but controversial risk factor that has been a subject of debate between scientific circles, environmental protection groups and cosmeceutical industry for the last decade or so happens to be a very common ingredient in our personal hygiene products: aluminum chloride.
Aluminum salts are used as an active ingredient in most antiperspirants and deodorants that control sweating and associated body odor. When applied to the skin they dissolve into the sweat and block the sweat gland ducts. This blockage reduces the amount of moisture on the skin’s surface.
Scientific Research Linking Aluminum Salts To Breast Cancer
A study conducted in 2005 brought the hairy fact into limelight, that constant application of antiperspirants containing aluminum chloride or aluminum chlorhydrate could be related to an increase in breast cancer cells because of the compounds' ability to mimic estrogen in the body.
After this research was published the scientific community agreed on the conclusion that more follow through studies were needed to fully understand the long-term effects of aluminum exposure near breast tissue.
The investigative work that followed since has provided conflicting results and has been inconclusive at its best.
The lack of strong data backed by conclusive results lead most cancer societies across the world to agree on the conclusion that there is no good evidence that aluminum salts in deodorants could increase the risk of cancer in animals or humans.
New Light On The Subject
Recently scientists from University of Geneva have again confirmed the fact that a link between breast cancer and aluminum chloride salts used in the deodorants does exist indeed.
This new research has been published in the September 2016 issue of International Journal of Cancer. During this study scientists looked at isolated human mammary cells and later in test mice. They observed that long-term exposure to the chemical not only spurred on cancer tumors but also their proliferation throughout the body.
Conclusion: Long-term exposure of aluminum salts leads to very aggressive growth of breast tumors with ability to metastasize or spread.
The Controversial Debate
This recent study has again heated up the debate that aluminum salts can be triggers to breast cancer.
Dr. Andre-Pascal Sappino one of the co-authors of the study strongly advises, "I think we should avoid all deodorants containing aluminum salts." admitting that his recommendations will likely trigger major industry backlash. "Now the fight will begin. They will act like the tobacco industry and say that proof in human beings is lacking."
Representing the critics of the study, Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, has advised the media to view and interpret this study with caution. Her chief argument being, this particular research is bringing charges against aluminum salts solely by studying their effect on mice tissue. Previous research done on human breast tissue has rendered inconclusive results.
Study authors and environmental safety groups are appealing to masses to stop using deodorants and antiperspirants that contain these chemicals. Critics are advising to ignore the study and continue life as usual with dry armpits and antiperspirants in your toiletry bags, claiming that the evidence is weak and should not be taken seriously.
Common sense dictates - Where there is smoke there’s fire. The study might have been done on mice but a carcinogen is a carcinogen. Sweating and body odor can be managed by other means, which are not implicated as cancer triggers. Why should you take the risk of exposing yourself to a detrimental chemical, if you could avoid it?
Life can go on normally without use antiperspirants hence lets make it so.
Risk Free Options
Practicing good hygiene is the best alternative. Sweat is odorless bad smell is generated when bacteria growing in the armpits break down the acids in the sweat. Wash the area with soap and water 2-3 per day to avoid growth of bacteria and odor. Shave armpits regularly and keep the area as clean and dry as possible.
Avoid foods that tend to make you sweat more, such as hot peppers or other spicy foods, might also contribute to body odor. The aroma of foods such as onions or garlic can be carried in the sweat, making you smell bad. Drinks with caffeine or alcohol may also cause you to sweat more.
Look for natural and aluminum salt free products. As a general rule, deodorants tend to be less problematic than antiperspirants, as they work by neutralizing the smell of your sweat and by antiseptic action against bacteria, rather than by preventing sweating. There are many brands of aluminum-free deodorants on the market, which could be used as safe alternatives.
"Crystal" deodorant stones are a popular natural deodorant alternative often used by health-conscious shoppers looking to avoid aluminum. They contain potassium or ammonium alums. These are natural mineral salts made up of molecules that are too large to be absorbed by your skin. They form a protective layer on your skin that inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria. These deodorants are recommended by many cancer treatment centers, but while these may be a better alternative to most antiperspirants and deodorants on the market, they are not completely aluminum-free.
Botox to the rescue– If excessive sweating is a major problem small and controlled doses of Botox can be injected in the armpits to prevent sweating.
Take Home Message
The most important step to prevent breast cancer is to understand what you can do to reduce your risk. Breast cancer prevention starts with healthy habits — such as limiting alcohol, avoiding smoking, eating healthy, staying physically active, avoiding exposure to estrogens, radiation and environmental pollution.
If possible avoid all chemicals linked with cancer with or without big medical proof. You loose nothing by playing it safe and removing harmful chemicals from your life - Better safe than sorry!