Personal-care products and cosmetics contain chemicals that may trigger the growth of breast cancer cells more than it has been previously thought (and at much lower doses), according to a new study.
The chemicals called parabens were tested on human breast cancer cells that were growing in a petri dishes. Researchers say that it is still unclear whether the chemicals may act the same way and have the same effect in the human body.
Parabens – chemical preservatives – are found in products like body lotions, shampoos, sunscreens, and so on.
Previous lab studies found that parabens are able to bind to the same receptors as estrogen (oestrogen) does. Dr. Dale Leitman, an adjunct professor of nutritional sciences and toxicology at the University of California, Berkeley said that cells tend to multiply when estrogen binds to estrogen receptors, which means that if parabens do the same thing, then the risk of breast cancer in women will increase.
Because previous findings suggested that parabens could only slightly activate the same pathways as estrogen, researchers thought that in small quantities (as the ones found in personal care products and cosmetics) the chemicals would be harmless to humans.
For their study – published October 27 in the Environmental Health Perspectives – the researchers looked at the effects of parabens mixed with heregulin – a growth factor linked to breast cancer cells growth.
The researchers found that when they added heregulin, the parabens became 100 times more effective at stimulating the growth of cancer cells, than when the cells were exposed only to parabens.
According to Dr. Leitman, the study showed that parabens should be tested with other chemicals (like heregulin) that stimulate cell growth, and not just by themselves.
“The study, like others published, only demonstrated the effects in the cells, which may not reflect the same scenario as in an intact biological system,” Dr. Jiangang Chen, an assistant professor of public health at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, also agreed with Dr. Leitman’s statement.
More research needs to be conducted to find whether the safety of parabenes in personal-care products and in cosmetic products should be re-evaluated, Dr. Chen stated.
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