Antiperspirant Use OK for Women Getting Breast Radiation


Changes could lessen women's worries about body odor.

Women undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer can resume using antiperspirants without worrying about additional skin irritation, a new study has found.

The work, published in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology, looked at whether antiperspirants intensified the level of radiation delivered to women’s skin during treatment.

To do this, researchers aimed therapeutic radiation at two small squares of paper equipped with a sensor to measure radiation. One piece of paper was coated liberally with antiperspirant. Nothing was applied to the other piece of paper.

Subsequent measurement showed no difference between radiation levels on the two pieces of paper.

“We conclude that the use of currently available antiperspirants can be liberalized to improve patient quality of life without risking increased (skin irritation),” wrote the authors of the study, which was conducted through the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The rationale for avoiding antiperspirant has been that radiation might cause aluminum in the product to scatter, intensifying the treatment’s effects on skin. The study included both standard and extra-strength antiperspirants, composed of 15 percent and 25 percent aluminum, respectively.

While the use of antiperspirants may seem a minor issue compared to other aspects of cancer, a growing body of research suggests that overall well-being can contribute to effective cancer treatment. The study’s authors cited a survey reporting that 64 percent of women avoiding deodorant during radiotherapy for breast cancer were worried about body odor.

“Going without antiperspirants entirely for a three- to six-week course of radiotherapy can have a negative impact on a patient’s quality of life,” the study’s lead author, Brian C. Baumann, M.D., said in a press release. He recently completed his residency in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Researches avoided conducting the study on women because that would have made it more difficult to isolate and control for other factors that could affect radiation levels on skin. And, he said, doing so might have exposed test subjects to unnecessary risk.

“It’s radiation,” he said in an interview with CURE. “So it’s common to do what we call ‘phantom studies’ to measure radiation without dosing people.”

The study also surveyed people who provide health care to those with breast cancer to find out how often they tell patients to avoid antiperspirants during radiation regimes. Roughly 86 of the 105 providers surveyed (82 percent) said they give that advice.

That result mirrors what the patients themselves reported in the study. About 80 percent of 92 surveyed patients who’d undergone radiation treatment for breast cancer said they’d been told to avoid deodorants for the duration of the therapy.

“We can’t make any conclusions about the prevalence of this recommendation, but we think the results strongly suggest that the recommendation remains popular,” Baumann said in the study.

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