Parabens are a class of chemicals widely used as preservatives in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. They can be found in deodorant-antiperspirant products, body lotions, moisturisers, suncare products, shaving gels, and make-up.
Dr Philippa Darbre, of the School of Biological Sciences, has spent more than a decade looking at parabens and the effects they may have when absorbed by the skin. Her latest study adds to her 2004 research, which studied samples of 20 human breast tumours and measured the concentration of parabens in the tissue.
Her new, larger study highlights concerns over whether parabens could be a contributory factor in breast cancer due to their ability to mimic the female hormone oestrogen which is known to drive the growth of breast tumours.
The research team studied tissue samples from 40 women who had undergone mastectomies between 2005 and 2008 for first primary breast cancer. In total, 160 samples were collected, four from each woman, covering serial locations from the axilla (nearest the armpit) to the sternum (breast bone). Of these, 99% of the tissue samples contained at least one paraben and 60% of the samples had five.
Seven women reported never having used antiperspirant-deodorant products suggesting that parabens had entered the breast from other sources.
Dr Darbre said: “These results are of concern because parabens have been shown to mimic the action of the female hormone oestrogen and oestrogen can drive the growth of human breast tumours. Many of the concentrations of the parabens measured in these breast tissues would be sufficient to drive the growth of oestrogen-dependent human breast cancer cells in the laboratory.
“The fact that parabens were detected in the majority of the breast tissue samples cannot be taken to imply that they actually caused breast cancer in the 40 women studied. However, the fact that parabens were present in so many of the breast tissue samples does justify further investigation.”
‘Measurement of paraben concentrations in human breast tissue at serial locations across the breast from axilla to sternum’ by L. Barr, G. Metaxas, C. A. J. Harbach, L. A. Savoy and P. D. Darbre is published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/jat.1786
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Notes for editors
The School of Biological Sciences is one of the larger Biology Schools in the UK. It has benefited from substantial recent investment in research facilities and infrastructure, including the Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research (ICMR). The School’s research interests span the broad scope of modern biology, from individual molecules to global biodiversity and sustainability.