Significance of the detection of esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) in human breast tumours

J Appl Toxicol. 2004 Jan-Feb;24(1):1-4. doi: 10.1002/jat.957.


This issue of Journal of Applied Toxicology publishes the paper Concentrations of Parabens in Human Breast Tumours by Darbre et al. (2004), which reports that esters of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (parabens) can be detected in samples of tissue from human breast tumours. Breast tumour samples were supplied from 20 patients, in collaboration with the Edinburgh Breast Unit Research Group, and analysed by high-pressure liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry. The parabens are used as antimicrobial preservatives in underarm deodorants and antiperspirants and in a wide range of other consumer products. The parabens also have inherent oestrogenic and other hormone related activity (increased progesterone receptor gene expression). As oestrogen is a major aetiological factor in the growth and development of the majority of human breast cancers, it has been previously suggested by Darbre that parabens and other chemicals in underarm cosmetics may contribute to the rising incidence of breast cancer. The significance of the finding of parabens in tumour samples is discussed here in terms of 1). Darbre et al's study design, 2). what can be inferred from this type of data (and what can not, such as the cause of these tumours), 3). the toxicology of these compounds and 4). the limitations of the existing toxicology database and the need to consider data that is appropriate to human exposures.

Publication types

  • Comment
  • Editorial
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Food Preservatives / analysis
  • Food Preservatives / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Parabens / analysis
  • Parabens / metabolism*
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / analysis
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical / metabolism*


  • Estrogens, Non-Steroidal
  • Food Preservatives
  • Parabens
  • Preservatives, Pharmaceutical