A new study conducted by government scientists has found that women who use permanent hair dye and chemical straighteners may be at an increased risk of developing breast cancer than those who don’t use such products.
“Researchers have been studying the possible link between hair dye and cancer for a long time, but results have been inconsistent,” Alexandra White, Ph.D., a study author and head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Environment and Cancer Epidemiology Group, said in a press release. “In our study, we see a higher breast cancer risk associated with hair dye use, and the effect is stronger in African American women, particularly those who are frequent users.”
The data, which was collected from 46,709 women who participated in the Sister Study, found that women who regularly used permanent hair dye the year prior to enrolling in the study were 9 percent more likely than those who didn’t to develop breast cancer. Among African-American women, those who reported using permanent dyes every five to eight weeks in the year prior had a 60 percent increased risk of developing the disease compared with an 8 percent increased risk for white women.
It was not clear why there was such a disparity between the two ethnicities. However, when taking into account the risk associated with using chemical hair straightening the products, the gap narrowed. Researchers said those who used such products at least every five to eight weeks were about 30 percent more likely to develop breast cancer, but that African American women were more likely to use the products on a regular basis than the white participants.
Although the numbers may seem alarming, researchers said the study was not an indication that such products should be banned or pulled from the market, just one more thing for women to be aware of.
“We are exposed to many things that could potentially contribute to breast cancer, and it is unlikely that any single factor explains a woman’s risk,” Dale Sandler, Ph.D., study co-author and chief of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch, said in the press release. “While it is too early to make a firm recommendation, avoiding these chemicals might be one more thing women can do to reduce their risk of breast cancer.”
Weight, diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, exposure to estrogen, oral contraceptive use and stress and anxiety have all been identified as risk factors for breast cancer that a patient can control, according to BreastCancer.org. However, there are several which cannot be eliminated, such as gender, age, family history, personal history race, radiation therapy to the chest, breast cellular changes, exposure to estrogen, pregnancy, and breastfeeding, and exposure to diethylstilbestrol, a medication used to prevent miscarriage in the 1940s through the 1960s.
An average of 1 in 8 women in the United States or 12 percent go on to develop breast cancer over the course of a lifetime, with those who have inherited the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation at a higher risk.
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