By Anjana Motihar Chandra for Health Xchange, with expert input from the Division of Radiation Oncology, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), a member of the SingHealth group

Globally, cancer cases may be on the rise, but cancer patients are actually living longer because of early detection and advances in treatment.

Patients can now hope to survive common cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancer, and enjoy a good quality of life. However, cancer continues to evoke fear in many people, and the numerous myths surrounding cancer don’t help. Most of these myths, circulated via email and text messages, and posted on the Internet, concern the cancer risk posed by commonly used items.

Dr Faye Lynette Lim, Consultant, Division of Radiation Oncology, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), a member of the SingHealth group, dispels some of these cancer myths and presents the facts related to items such as antiperspirants and hair dyes.

MYTH: Daily use of antiperspirants and deodorants can cause breast cancer.

FACT: Antiperspirants and deodorants are safe to use every day and they don’t cause breast cancer. It is wrongly believed that aluminum and parabens in these personal care products are absorbed through the skin, or through cuts caused by underarm shaving, and cause breast cancer. A study on the use of underarm perspiration products and cancer, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2002), found no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, deodorant use, or underarm shaving.

MYTH: Wearing a bra can compress the lymphatic system of the breast and cause toxins to accumulate, leading to breast cancer.

FACT: It is completely safe to wear a bra. There is no scientific evidence to link wearing a bra, the type of bra worn (under-wired or non-wired) or the length of time it is worn, with breast cancer risk. The authors of a new breast cancer study on post-menopausal women, funded by the US National Cancer Institute and published in the September 2014 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, said: “Our results did not support an association between bra wearing and increased breast cancer risk among post-menopausal women.”

MYTH: Using hair dye regularly to colour your hair increases your risk of breast cancer, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and leukaemia.

FACT: Scientific evidence on the link between personal hair dye use and cancer is mostly inconclusive. Most studies on personal hair dye use and the link to bladder cancer and breast cancer have not found an increased risk. However, some studies do suggest that hairdressers and barbers, who have a high exposure to hair dye and other chemicals, may have an increased risk of bladder cancer.

Due to the lack of conclusive evidence from research studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization, considers hair dye use to be “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans”.

If you are a regular hair dye user and are concerned about your cancer risk, you would do well to carefully follow the instructions when you apply hair dye. Always use gloves and don’t keep the hair dye on longer than instructed. Alternatively, you can use plant-based hair dyes rather than the commonly used semi-permanent and permanent dyes.

Reproduced with permission from SingHealth’s Health Xchange, Singapore’s first interactive health and lifestyle resource portal. For more information, visit

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