Raised Cancer Risks With Certain Hair Products

There is now new research that finds women who use hair dye or chemical relaxers might have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.  This particular study was led by researchers from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ and has been published in the journal Carcinogenesis.  Breast cancer starts in breast cells and is the second most common cancer worldwide, and mostly in women.  Nearly 1.7 million cases globally were diagnosed with breast cancer in women in 2012.

Breast cancer is the 2nd most common cancer in women in the U.S. after skin cancer.  Even though deaths have been falling in the U.S. due to breast cancer, it is still the second biggest cause of death from cancer for women and black women are at a higher risk of dying of it than white women.  Men are also born with breast cells and can get breast cancer as well, but the rate is much lower for men.  There are about 220,000 women and 2,000 men diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the U.S.  Approximately 40,000 women and 400 men die of this disease.

There are a number of factors that are related to the risk of developing breast cancer.  Some cannot be changed but others can.  Those that cannot be changed are getting older, genetics and age of first menstrual period.  For those that can be changed, they are physical activity, use of alcohol and use of some forms of hormone replacement therapy and contraceptive pills.

There is currently conflicting evidence of whether the use of hair products that contain cancer-causing chemicals or carcinogens can raise the risk of breast cancer in women.  With animal testing some of it comes from studies in defined human populations, but research in human populations has tended to focus on hair dyes with mixed results.

The team was committed to finding some clearer answer and analyzed data on 4,285 women taking part in the Women’s Circle of Health Study.  This study strives to understand breast cancer in black women.  A total of 4,285 women were in the study with 2,280 having breast cancer and 2,005 not having breast cancer.  Those with breast cancer comprised of 1,508 black and 772 white women and those without breast cancer had 1,290 black and 715 white women.  Their ages ranged from 20 to 75 years of age.

The data taken was about social and economic background and extensive information about factors that might affect breast cancer risk.  These include history of personal and family health, exposure before birth, use of hormones, reproductive history, physical activity, alcohol use, smoking history, vitamin use and hair product use.  The links between the raised risk of breast cancer and use of hair products, especially the use of hair dyes and relaxing or straighteners, were their focuses.  The use of creams containing cholesterol or placenta for deep conditioning of the hair were also links.

In the women without breast cancer the use of hair dyes was more common in white women than black women (58% and 30%).  The use of relaxers was less common in white women (5% compared with 88% of black women), as also the use of deep conditioners (6% compared with 59%).  The researchers found after analyzing the data that some significant links between raised risk for breast cancer and use of hair dyes and chemical relaxers, or straighteners, had a pattern of risk that differed between white women and black women.  They found that use of dark shades of hair dye in black women was linked to an overall higher risk of breast cancer and even higher risk of estrogen positive breast cancer.

The analysis found that the use of relaxers or straighteners, alone or together with hair dyes, for white women were linked to raised risk of breast cancer.  There was also a raised risk of estrogen positive breast cancer with use of dark hair dyes and raised risk of estrogen negative breast cancer with use of relaxers among white women.

The authors concluded that these findings support the idea of a relationship between use of certain hair products and a raised risk of breast cancer.  They have suggested further examinations of hair products as important exposure contributing to breast cancer carcinogenesis are necessary.

Dr Fredda Branyon