A new study has identified a regionally-specific distribution of aluminium in breast tissue which may have implications for the cause of breast cancer.
Scientists have found that the aluminium content of breast tissue and breast tissue fat was significantly higher in the outer regions of the breast, in close proximity to the area where there would be the highest density of antiperspirant.
Recent research has linked breast cancer with the use of aluminium-based, underarm antiperspirants. The known, but unaccounted for, higher incidence of tumours in the upper outer quadrant of the breast seemed to support such a contention. However, the identification of a mechanism of antiperspirant-induced breast cancer has remained elusive.
A team, led by Dr Chris Exley of the Birchall Centre for Inorganic Chemistry and Materials at Keele University in the UK, measured the aluminium content of breast tissue from 17 breast cancer patients recruited from Wythenshaw Hospital, Manchester, UK. Whether differences in the distribution of aluminium in the breast are related to the known higher incidence of tumours in the outer upper quadrant of the breast remains to be ascertained.
The major constituent of antiperspirant is aluminium salts which have long been associated with cancer, as well as other human disease. The daily application of aluminium-based antiperspirants should result in the presence of aluminium in the tissue of the underarm and surrounding areas, though there is almost no data on aluminium in breast tissue.
Breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women and is the leading cause of death among women aged 35-54. The cause of breast cancer is unknown and is likely to be a combination of generic and environmental factors.
Each of the patients in the study had undergone a mastectomy and biopsies from four different regions of the breast on a transect from the outer (axilla and lateral) to the inner (middle and medial) breast were collected.
Tests showed that while there were significant differences in the concentrations of aluminium between individuals they did show “a statistically higher concentration of aluminium in the outer as compared with the inner region of the breast”.
The report, published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry, goes on: “We have confirmed the presence of aluminium in breast tissue and its possible regional distribution within the breast. Higher content of aluminium in the outer breast might be explained by this region’s closer proximity to the underarm where the highest density of application of antiperspirant could be assumed. There is evidence that skin is permeable to aluminium when applied as antiperspirant.
“However, we have no direct evidence that the aluminium measured in these breast biopsies originated from antiperspirant. An alternative explanation might be that tumourous tissue acts as a ‘sink’ for systemic aluminium”.
But it goes on to say that “aluminium in breast tissue might contribute” to breast cancer.
“Aluminium is a metalloestrogen, it is genotoxic, is bound by DNA and has been shown to be carcinogenic. It is also a pro-oxidant and this unusual property might provide a mechanistic basis for any putative carcinogenicity. The confirmed presence of aluminium in breast tissue biopsies highlights its potential as a possible factor in the aetiology of breast cancer”.