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Antiperspirants Safe During Breast Cancer Radiation

Study Shows Concerns That Aluminum Will Increase Skin Reactions May Be Unfounded
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 2, 2010 (San Diego) -- Despite fears to the contrary, women can safely use antiperspirants during radiation treatment for breast cancer, a new study suggests.

Canadian researchers studied 198 women undergoing radiotherapy; about half used antiperspirants and half were told only to wash.

There was no increase in the intensity of the temporary sunburn-like skin reactions that most people experience during radiation treatment among women using antiperspirants.

There also was no difference in quality of life between women who used antiperspirants and those who did not, says researcher Donna Gies, RN, of the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Skin Effects Studied

Many women are advised not to use antiperspirants containing aluminum during radiation therapy.

Gies says that's because of two concerns: that the metal may cause a chemical reaction that increases the intensity of the skin reactions, and that the aluminum will increase the amount of radiation women receive due to the so-called bolus effect.

"But there was no hard evidence to support these concerns," Gies tells WebMD. "So we looked and didn't find any."

By definition, antiperspirants contain aluminum and deodorants do not. Most people prefer antiperspirants and express concerns about body odor if told not to use them, Gies says.

The study was presented here at the annual meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.

Skin Reactions Same in Both Groups

In Gies' study, the women rated the intensity of their skin reactions on scale ranging from 0-3, in which 0 is for no reaction, 1 for a minimal reaction, 2 for a moderate reaction, and 3 is reserved for moist, open, peeling areas.

During the third week of treatment, both groups scored 0.7 points, on average. On the last day of treatment, both groups had an average score of 1.3 points.

Two weeks after treatment, the average score for both groups was 0.9. "The skin reactions are temporary and they had started to heal," Gies says.

The women also completed quality-of-life questionnaires about their general well-being, cancer's effects, body image, and concerns about body odor.

Based on the findings, "we are very comfortable at our center advising women that they may use antiperspirants during radiation treatment," Gies says.

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