By Sharon Atieno

Breast cancer remains a major public health problem with continuous evidence demonstrating that even self care products such as hair relaxers and dyes could increase the risk of development.

The Global Cancer Observatory (GLOBOCAN) estimates that there are 94,378 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in sub-Saharan Africa annually.

Presenting the findings of the research carried out by Women’s Circle of Health Study (WCHS) at the 10th KEMRI Annual Scientific Health (KASH) conference, Dr. Adana Llanos, a molecular epidemiologist noted that products used by Black/African American women may contain more hormonally-active compounds.

The study examined hair product use (hair dyes, chemical relaxers and cholesterol or placenta-containing conditioners) among Black and White women, and explored associations with breast cancer.

Among controls, hair dye use was more common among Whites than Blacks while relaxer and deep conditioner use was more common among Blacks.

The findings of the study showed that the use of dark shades of hair dyes (dark brown or black) was associated with a 51% overall risk of breast cancer and a 72% ER plus breast cancer (cells grow in response to the hormone estrogen) among Black Women.

Use of relaxers was not associated with breast cancer risk among Black women; however, it led to a 74% increased overall risk of breast cancer among White women.

In a different study to associate between hair product use and aggressive breast tumor features, preliminary results showed that history of regular hair dye use increases odds of larger tumors and positive lymph node status.

In addition, dual use of hair dyes and chemical relaxers is associated with increased odds of poorly differentiated tumors.

 “It’s good for consumers to understand what they are using when it comes to self care products and if they trigger cancer,” Dr. Llanos urged.