Breast Cancer and Household Cleaners: Is there really a link?


In the continued search to “stamp out” breast cancer, a new study has been done looking at the possibility of a link between the routine use of household cleaners and air fresheners and the risk of developing breast cancer.

Dr Julia Brody, from the Silent Spring Institute, and colleagues have published their study in the July issue of the Journal of Environmental Health which suggests there is a link.

Brody and colleagues conducted telephone interviews of 1,508 women (787 who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1988 and 1995; 721 who did not) about their cleaning regimes.

In an attempt to evaluate potential recall bias, the researchers stratified product-use odds ratios by beliefs about whether chemicals and pollutants contribute
to breast cancer. These results were compared with odds ratios for family history (which are less subject to recall bias) stratified by beliefs about heredity.

They found that overall the risk of breast cancer increased two-fold in the highest compared with lowest quartile of self reported
combined cleaning product use (Adjusted OR = 2.1, 95% CI: 1.4, 3.3) and combined air freshener use (Adjusted OR=1.9, 95% CI: 1.2, 3.0).


The biggest effect was noted to be associated with solid air fresheners; replacing more than seven times a year appears to double the risk of developing beast cancer.

Using mold and mildew removers more than once a week also seemed to double the risk.

Insect repellents, oven cleaners and furniture polish had a slight increase in the risks. Little association was noted with pesticide use.

There was noted a bias among women who believed pollutants contribute “a lot” to breast cancer. The study's authors acknowledge that "recall bias" may have skewered the results.

In order to avoid possible recall bias, the researchers recommend further study of cleaning products and breast cancer using prospective self-reports and measurements in environmental and biological media.


Self-reported chemicals exposure, beliefs about disease causation, and risk of breast cancer in the Cape Cod Breast Cancer and Environment Study: a case-control study; Ami R. Zota, Ann Aschengrau, Ruthann A. Rudel, Julia Green Brody; Environmental Health 2010, 9:40 (20 July 2010)