Press Releases

Chemicals used as preservatives detected in human breast tumours – University of Reading

Release Date : 12 January 2004

New evidence published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology indicates that parabens, chemicals found in underarm cosmetics and other products, can be detected in human breast tumours. Previous suggestion has been made that certain components of underarm cosmetics may contribute to the rising incidence of breast cancer. Although the connection has yet to be proven, this research at the University of Reading represents an important link that will be crucial to further investigations. Researchers studied samples of 20 different human breast tumours, measuring the concentration of parabens in the tissue. Intact parabens were detected in the samples, with a mean concentration of 20.6 ng per gram of tissue. The parabens were detected in their ester form rather than metabolite form, which suggests that the route of entry was topical and not oral. Dr Philippa Darbre, lead author of the study, explains the significance of the results: 'Parabens are used as preservatives in thousands of cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical products but this is the first study to show their accumulation in human tissues. It demonstrates that if people are exposed to these chemicals, then the chemicals will accumulate in their bodies. 'Their detection in human breast tumours is of concern since parabens have been shown to be able to mimic the action of the female hormone oestrogen and oestrogen can drive the growth of human breast tumours. It would therefore seem especially prudent to consider whether parabens should continue to be used in such a wide range of cosmetics applied to the breast area (including antiperspirants/deodorants).' The results of this study are significant and very important, however they must be interpreted with caution. Dr Philip Harvey, European Editor of the journal and author of a leading editorial piece, states: 'Dr Darbre has forwarded a logical hypothesis and called for further research into the potential link between chemicals used in underarm cosmetics and breast cancer. Unlike diffuse environmental exposures to xenoestrogens, the use of underarm cosmetics presents a special case because of the direct application to the skin. 'The finding of parabens in human tumours is important because it shows that these extraneous weakly oestrogenic chemicals can be detected in the breast and are therefore absorbed. It is clear that these compounds serve no useful purpose in human tissue but further research is required to confirm their route of disposition, persistence and whether they can cause harm. 'Finally, Dr Darbre and colleagues fully peer reviewed finding of parabens in tumour samples does not imply causality of the tumour and further work is required to examine any association between oestrogenic, and other, chemicals in underarm cosmetics and breast cancer.' End Notes for Editors Harvey P W and Everett D J. Editorial: Significance of the Detection of Esters of p - Hydroxybenzoic Acid (Parabens) in Human Breast Tumours. Journal of Applied Toxicology. Vol 24, 2004, p. 1-4 ( Darbre P D, Aljarrah A, Miller W R, Coldham N G, Sauer M J, and Pope G S. Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumours. Journal of Applied Toxicology. Vol 24, 2004, p. 5-13 ( About the Journal The Journal of Applied Toxicology, overseen by Editor-in-Chief Dr Harry Salem, is devoted to publishing original research, theoretical and literature reviews relating to the toxicity of drugs and chemicals to living systems at the molecular, cellular, tissue and target organ level. This also encompasses teratogenesis, carcinogenesis, mutagenesis, mechanistic toxicology, pharmacokinetics, environmental toxicology and environmental health (including epidemiological studies) in addition to analytical and method development studies. Papers dealing with in vitro techniques and alternatives to the use of animals are encouraged. The journal can be accessed online via Wiley Interscience at About Wiley John Wiley & Sons Ltd., with its headquarters in Chichester, England, is the largest subsidiary of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Founded in 1807, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., provides must-have content and services to customers worldwide. Its core businesses include scientific, technical, and medical journals, encyclopaedias, books, and online products and services; professional and consumer books and subscription services; and educational materials for undergraduate and graduate students and lifelong learners. Wiley has publishing, marketing, and distribution centres in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbols JWa and JWb. Wiley's Internet site can be accessed at To request an interview with Dr Philippa Darbre, please contact Craig Hillsley, University of Reading press officer. Telephone: 0118 378 8005 E-mail:


Search Form

Main navigation