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Do Household Cleaning Products Increase Breast Cancer Risk?


Cleaning Supplies

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, and is second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of death for women. Research has identified a number of factors that may play a role in its development, but much about the causes of breast cancer remains unknown.

Environmental links have been identified, but they tend to be difficult to prove. A number of studies have linked chemical exposure to breast cancer, but the bulk of the research has focused on the chemicals women put directly on their bodies, such as those found in cosmetics, deodorants and shampoos, rather than on chemicals women may be regularly exposed to in their homes.

One study released last year however, revealed that regular use of common household cleaning products and air fresheners may double a woman’s risk for breast cancer. These findings came just a few months after the release of a groundbreaking government report stating that unregulated chemicals in the environment pose a serious threat to health and may increase the incidence of some cancers.

Researchers surveyed over 1,500 women — 787 of whom had breast cancer, and 721 of whom did not — to try to identify links between exposure to common chemicals and development of breast cancer. According to their findings, which were published in Environmental Health, breast cancer risk among women who reported the most use of household cleaners and air fresheners was double that of those women who reported the least use of such products.

The strongest associations were found with mold and mildew cleaners (such as those used to clean showers and bathroom tile) and solid slow-release air fresheners. (Of the women who reported regular use of air fresheners, 90% developed breast cancer.) Insect repellents, oven and surface cleaners were also found to increase risk, though to a lesser extent.

While these findings will need to backed up by additional research before they gain wide acceptance, they parallel previous findings in research on animals. Many of the chemicals found in cleaning products have been shown to disrupt the endocrine system and contribute to breast cancer in animals. These chemicals include phthalates, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, terpenes, benzene, styrene, synthetic fragrances and some antimicrobial agents, said lead researcher Julia Brody, who is the executive director of the Silent Spring Institute, a non-profit organization concerned about environmental links to breast cancer.

The researchers acknowledged that the study, because it was based on survey data, is imperfect because of something called recall bias. They asked the women to a) recall the extent to which they had used cleaning products, and b) whether they believed exposure to chemicals could cause cancer. Not too surprisingly, they found that women with breast cancer who who believed chemicals contributed to the disease were more likely to report heavy use of chemical-containing household products, which could indicate that their answer to the first question was distorted by their beliefs.

It’s quite possible, however, that these women were perhaps more accurate in their accounts, since they might just be more aware of their past exposures to household chemicals.

Here’s what Dr. Brody had to say about the matter:

“When women are diagnosed with breast cancer, they often think about what happened in the past that might have contributed to the disease. As a result, it may be that women with breast cancer more accurately recall their past product use or even overestimate it. Or, it could also be that experience with breast cancer influences beliefs about its causes. For example, women diagnosed with breast cancer are less likely to believe heredity contributes ‘a lot,’ because most are the first in their family to get the disease.”

To confirm their findings, the researchers recommend that additional research on the effects of cleaning product use on breast cancer risk be conducted using different types of methodology.

In the meantime, it’s probably not a bad idea to give up using these chemicals in your home, at least on a regular basis, if not altogether.  There are an ever-increasing number of effective, non-toxic (not to mention environmentally friendly) household products available to choose from. Seventh Generation, Ecover and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day are just a few of the more widely available brands. Or, you can clean house the way your grandma might have — a little vinegar and baking soda is all it takes! For more information about how to make your own cleaning products out of non-toxic ingredients, check out this article from Green America.


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21 responses to “Do Household Cleaning Products Increase Breast Cancer Risk?”

  1. Lissa says:

    It is scary at how many every day products are toxins to the body and yet are still sold. The article from Green America is wonderful at providing recipes on how to make so many homemade cleansers that definitely get the job done!

  2. […] See the article here: Common Household Chemicals Linked to Breast Cancer – Live in the Now […]

  3. priscilla_sirc says:

    In 2006 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Toxicology Program determined styrene to be of “negligible concern” for effects on human development and reproduction, including endocrine effects. Further, no authoritative or regulatory body anywhere in the world classifies styrene to be a known cause of human cancer. Moreover, a study conducted by a “blue ribbon” panel of epidemiologists and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (November 2009) reports: “The evidence of human carcinogenicity of styrene is inconsistent and weak. On the basis of the available evidence, one cannot conclude that there is a causal relationship between styrene and any type of human cancer.”

    Priscilla Briones for the Styrene Information and Research Center (SIRC), Arlington, Virginia. SIRC ( is a trade association representing interests of the North American styrene industry with its mission being the collection, development, analysis and communication of pertinent information on styrene.

    • Christina says:

      Great! So it's “safe until proven deadly” …or a perfect example of the problem with the government's current reactionary approach to regulation of toxic chemicals. The EPA has described styrene as a “suspected carcinogen” and “toxin to the gastrointestinal, kidney and respiratory systems.” It may have some worthwhile industrial uses, but I think I'LL PASS ON USING IT TO CLEAN MY HOUSE. Thanks.

  4. BethF says:

    Thanks for posting this article

    I use only all-natural cleaners in my house, but I have the oil plugs in from Bath & Body Works all around. Do you think these should be avoided?

    I've always wondered what kind of chemicals are being used in these products (I'm assuming not safe ones….)

    Does anyone know of any all natural alternatives?

  5. Rob says:

    If mildew cleaners are dangerous, what about mildew resistant paints?

    • Mina says:

      That's a good question. I would guess that they're similarly dangerous, but this is something I want to learn more about.

      According to Consumer Reports, the EPA considers additional claims on mold or mildew resistant labeled products such as “non-toxic” or “all natural” to be false or misleading. I'd assume that this applies to cleaning products as well as paints. (See….

  6. […] with increased risk for the disease. The test does not take into account other genetic mutations or non-genetic lifestyle factors that may lead to breast cancer development. The fear is that women who don’t understand all […]

  7. […] foods like soy, sets the body up for hormonal imbalance, which can lead to estrogen-related health issues such as breast cancer or uterine fibroids, difficult monthly cycles, and difficult or extremely uncomfortable […]

  8. […] and you can see the evidence. Almost all hand soaps are now “antibacterial” and just about all common household cleaning products are advertised to have strong anti-microbial properties. Television ads do a wonderful job of […]

  9. […] Using antibacterial soaps, hand sanitizers and common household cleaners to kill germs is a good way to protect yourself and your family from illnesses such as the common […]

  10. […] chemicals for legitimate reasons, though many of these are considered toxins, and some are known carcinogens. Yet they strive to maintain their separateness in this day and age. Could it be because they […]

  11. sonya says:

    This is the #1 reason why I switched my cleaning from chemical cleaning to ENJO (en-yo) cleaning.  It uses cold water & fibres to mechanically remove the dirt & chemical residue.  I don’t know why more people aren’t using this product.  It’s amazing and does exactly what it says it’s going to!

  12. […] less toxic cleaning supplies, you ended up buying sleek bottles of METHOD all-purpose washes and cleansers. The bottles looked stylish. The claims looked important. The messages were whimsical. And the guys […]

  13. Rosie says:

    Jeez. Disturbing study. You definitely don’t need to use harsh cleaners anymore…there are plenty of other options. Mrs. Meyers and Seventh Generation have already been mentioned, but there is also stuff like Simple Green, Bio Green Clean (only available online ), EcoConcepts, etc.

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