Four years ago, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I was 33 years old.
The doctors all said the same thing: you are so young. I definitely have a family history of breast cancer. The BRCA gene, which increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer (no!). So, how do I get bald from chemotherapy?
When I thought about the large number of questionnaires I had completed, I still had cramps in my left hand and sought out lifestyle factors, illnesses, and treatments. That may have caused the disease in the past.
As with the 276,480 women diagnosed this year, the answer for me is not as simple as ticking a box. But I know my cancer is estrogen receptor-positive. In other words, cells have receptors that allow them to grow with the hormone estrogen’s help.
New research now shows that women with a history of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, like me, and women at high risk of developing breast cancer, may want to take a closer look at the cosmetics we use.
A study published in the journal “Environmental Health Perspectives” in January 2020 found that oxybenzone components, an ultraviolet filter used for sun protection, and propylparaben, an antimicrobial agent used in cosmetics, contain small mouse breast cell DNA, but only damaged the chest. Cells with estrogen receptors.
Oxybenzophenone and propylparaben are xenoestrogens, which are chemicals that mimic the female hormone estrogen in the body. This makes this finding especially significant for women with a history or risk of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.
Studies have shown that this dose does not damage cells without estrogen receptors for women with no medical history or high-risk factors for breast cancer.
Should you throw in sunscreen?
Dr. Williams pointed out that more research needs to be done to determine whether the daily use of products containing these ingredients increases the risk. Williams said, “All women are at risk for breast cancer. After learning about the potential risks, they may choose to treat these drugs with caution.”
Why? According to the American Cancer Society, the FDA checks that the active ingredients in sunscreens do not cause serious problems, including cancer, reproductive damage, or endocrine effects. However, the FDA will not test the sunscreen itself unless the manufacturer requires testing or contains new ingredients that are not yet considered safe.
If you’re Google’s favorite sunscreen brand, many products usually contain oxybenzone as an ingredient to prevent skin cancer, and some products contain both oxybenzone and propylparaben. (Recently I found a bottle of two-ingredient sunscreen in a beach bag.)
Facts have proven that according to data from the US Environmental Working Group in the US market, nearly 70% of sunscreens contain harmful chemicals, including oxybenzone. It is unclear what percentage of cosmetics contain propylparaben, although the FDA stated in a 2018 report that “cosmetics that may contain parabens include cosmetics, moisturizers, hair care products, and shaves. Products etc.”
It’s also worth noting that oxybenzone became news when the product was recently banned in Hawaii. After several environmental studies have shown that oxybenzone is associated with the killing of new coral growth and coral reefs’ bleaching in the ocean, it will be phased out in 2021.
Stay safe this summer.
If you’re checking cosmetics and beach bags and want to know if you should see a doctor after using products containing propylparaben, Dr. Williams says don’t panic: Stay tuned for your regular breast exams. And mammograms to let your doctor know you have these ingredients.
Protecting the skin is, of course, very important. The American Cancer Society recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Now we are all professional label readers looking for broad-spectrum and waterproof sunscreens.
And don’t forget one more important step: check yourself for breast lumps and any abnormal feelings. Early detection can help save lives.