WebMD - FAQ: Parabens and Breast Cancer

October 27, 2015

By Brenda Goodman, MA

Excerpt: A new study has found that chemicals called parabens can spur the growth of certain types of breast cancer cells. And they appear to be able to do this even in tiny amounts.

Parabens are used in many food and personal care products. They have a chemical structure that’s similar to estrogen, which means they can mimic the effects of that hormone in the body. But they seem do this weakly, and on the scale of chemical threats, researchers thought parabens were pretty low on the list of things to worry about.

New research suggests, though, that they may be more harmful than previously thought.

For the study, scientists grew breast cancer cells in a lab. They treated the cancer cells with low doses of parabens along with heregulin, a growth-promoting substance that’s normally found in breast tissue. The two chemicals are known to have a more powerful effect when combined.

When the two chemicals were combined, the dose of parabens needed to stimulate growth was 100 times lower. That suggests parabens may be exerting effects at levels people are being exposed to in real life, according to study author Ruthann Rudel, who co-directs the research program for the non-profit Silent Spring Institute.

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