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For the record

"Breast cancer 'risk' all over shops' shelves"? Image

"Breast cancer 'risk' all over shops' shelves"?

A story published in The Sun on 12 January 2012 suggested a link between parabens – preservatives found in many food and beauty products – and an increased risk of breast cancer. The story describes a new study (published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology) which found that tissue samples taken from breast cancer tumours contained parabens. The story suggests that the chance of developing breast cancer may increase as a result of exposure to ‘a cocktail of parabens from different sources’.

In our guide to Making Sense of Chemical Stories we explain that the presence of a chemical in our bodies does not mean it is doing harm. Our bodies contain traces of many substances that we are in contact with, natural and synthetic, some beneficial and some harmful at certain levels. To understand whether the presence of a chemical is a problem, we need to know how much of it is present and to look at what kind of effect, if any, it is having.

Dr Caitlin Palframan, Policy Manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, says:

This study does not show any connection between breast cancer and parabens. We already knew that parabens may be found in the breast but there’s nothing to suggest women should worry about this. Whether the parabens come from one or many sources, there is no evidence of increased breast cancer risk.” 

Professor Richard Sharpe, MRC/University of Edinburgh Centre for Reproductive Health, adds:

A number of chemicals in our natural environment, such as parabens, can mimic the effects of the hormone oestradiol. These ‘weak oestrogens’ are thousands of times less potent than the oestrodial produced naturally by women of reproductive age. Concerns that the sum of small exposures to weak oestrogenic chemicals can contribute to the long-term risk of breast cancer are only speculative.”

Document type: For The Record

Published: 12 January 2012

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