Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Rutgers Study Links Certain Hair Products to Breast Cancer

Researchers from the Rutgers School of Public Health and the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, led by Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, Dr. Adana Llanos, along with colleagues from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, have linked the use of dark shades of hair dye and chemical relaxers/straighteners to an increased risk of breast cancer. Evidence from previous studies, including some experimental studies, suggests that exposure to some compounds found in hair products may be important contributors to breast cancer. Previous population research has been limited to examining the impact of hair dye on breast cancer risk, and findings have been mixed.

[Photo: Assistant professor of epidemiology, Dr. Adana Lianos]

Dr. Llanos and her colleagues, analyzed data collected from the Women’s Circle of Health Study, which included 4,285 African American and Caucasian women with and without breast cancer, between ages of 20 and 75, recruited from the New York City metropolitan area and ten New Jersey Counties. They found that the use of dark shade hair dyes was associated with a 51 percent increased risk of developing breast cancer among African American women. In particular, African American women who used dark brown or black hair dye, had a 72 percent increased risk developing a type of breast cancer known as estrogen-positive. Additionally, breast cancer risk was elevated among women who reported having their hair dyed in a salon (compared to those dyed their hair using home kits). They also found that the use of chemical relaxers or straighteners was associated with a 74 percent increased risk of breast cancer in Caucasian women.

On the implication of the study’s findings, Dr. Llanos said “these novel findings provide support of a relationship between the use of some hair products and breast cancer risk.” However, she cautions that “these findings do not mean that using hair dye or chemical relaxers/straightener causes breast cancer. While the study’s findings are important, they are preliminary and more research is needed to really understand why there may be a link between use of the hair products we studied, as well as other hair products, cosmetics, and personal care products, and the risk of breast cancer.”

Dr. Llanos is a molecular epidemiologist whose primary area of research focuses on understanding genetic and non-genetic factors associated with cancer disparities, particularly, cancers that disproportionately affect minority and underserved populations. She is focused on establishing a research niche in clinical and translational cancer prevention studies, bridging the gap between community-based and laboratory-based studies. Through the translation of molecular research findings to both community and clinical populations, she hopes to reduce cancer disparities.

Rutgers School of Public Health department of epidemiology MPH’16 alum, Ms. Anna Rabkin, was the second author of the study.

“Hair product use and breast cancer risk among African American and White women”

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