Aluminium salts are used as the active antiperspirant agent in underarm cosmetics, but the effects of widespread, long term and increasing use remain unknown, especially in relation to the breast, which is a local area of application.
Clinical studies showing a disproportionately high incidence of breast cancer in the upper outer quadrant of the breast together with reports of genomic instability in outer quadrants of the breast provide supporting evidence for a role for locally applied cosmetic chemicals in the development of breast cancer.
Aluminium is known to have a genotoxic profile, capable of causing both DNA alterations and epigenetic effects, and this would be consistent with a potential role in breast cancer if such effects occurred in breast cells.
Oestrogen is a well-established influence in breast cancer and its action, dependent on intracellular receptors which function as ligand-activated zinc finger transcription factors, suggests one possible point of interference from aluminium.
Results reported here demonstrate that aluminium in the form of aluminium chloride or aluminium chlorhydrate can interfere with the function of oestrogen receptors of MCF7 human breast cancer cells both in terms of ligand binding and in terms of oestrogen-regulated reporter gene expression.
This adds aluminium to the increasing list of metals capable of interfering with oestrogen action and termed metalloestrogens. Further studies are now needed to identify the molecular basis of this action, the longer term effects of aluminium exposure and whether aluminium can cause aberrations to other signalling pathways in breast cells.
Given the wide exposure of the human population to antiperspirants, it will be important to establish dermal absorption in the local area of the breast and whether long term low level absorption could play a role in the increasing incidence of breast cancer.
A recent study from Reading University found that cancerous tumours are most likely to appear in the parts of the breast which is closest to where antiperspirants are applied. Of the women studied, it was found that cysts in the armpit area of the breast had 25x more aluminium than the common amount found in the blood.
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