Hair Relaxers: No Breast Cancer Link
Higher Breast Cancer Rates Among Black Women Not Associated With Hair Relaxer Use
WebMD News Archive
May 17, 2007 -- Chemical “relaxers” commonly used by black women to
straighten hair are not associated with any increased risk of developing breast
cancer, according to a new study.
Researchers found women who used hair relaxers seven or more times per year
over a period of 20 years or longer had the same risk of breast cancer as those
who had used the products for less than a year.
“This is good news,” says researcher Lynn Rosenberg, ScD, professor of
epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, in a news release.
“The present study is definitive that hair relaxers don't cause breast cancer,
as much as an epidemiologic study can be.”
It’s the first study to examine a potential link between chemical hair
relaxers and breast cancer. Researchers say hair dye has been associated with
an increased risk of certain types of cancer in some studies, but these results
have not been conclusive.
Black women aged 45 or younger are more likely to develop breast cancer than
white women of the same age, and black women of any age are more likely to die
of the disease than white women.
But researchers say the increased risk among black women is not fully
explained by known breast cancer risk factors, such as family history of the
disease. Therefore, other potential causes of breast cancer among black women
are currently under investigation.
Hair Relaxers Not Cancerous
“Because hair relaxers are more widely used by younger African-American
women than they are used by older African-American women, a connection with
increased risk of breast cancer in younger women seemed possible,” says
Rosenberg. “Also, millions of African-American women use hair relaxers, and
substances that are used by millions of women over a span of many years should
be monitored for safety.”
Researchers say hair relaxers can enter the body through cuts or lesions in
the scalp, but these products are not fully monitored by the FDA. Since
manufacturers are not required to list all ingredients (some are considered to
be trade secrets), they say there is the potential for harmful ingredients.
The study, published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers &
Prevention, followed nearly 50,000 African-American women who participated
in the Black Women’s Health study from 1997 to 2003.
During the study, 574 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed, but
researchers found no increases in breast cancer risk associated with duration
of hair relaxer use, frequency of use, age at first use, number of burns
experienced during use, or type of hair relaxer used.