In the fight against unruly curls and frizz, chemical hair straighteners might not be the best option after a study linked them to increased risk of uterine cancer.
The study, from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, found that women who reported frequent use of hair straightening products were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer.
“These are important studies but need to be interpreted with caution,” noted Marguerite Palisoul, MD, a gynecologic oncologist with the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Hartford Hospital. “We know that there are environmental exposures that put people at risk for developing cancer.
Statistically, Dr. Palisoul said the study demonstrates a significant correlation between the products, applied to hair to smooth the hair by breaking its chemical make-up so a stylist can change it.
The research showed rates of uterine cancer, in general, have risen, almost doubling in the last 15 years. This is especially true for Black and Hispanic women. Black women, the study showed, are disproportionately more likely to use hair straightening products.
“When broken down by race, there is no increased risk from the hair products alone, but minority women are more likely to use them and they start at younger ages,” Dr. Palisoul said. “It is possible these substances are increasing the risk of uterine cancer. I’m not disputing this. But there are a lot of factors. It’s hard to tease out one thing when many others could have contributed.”
No time to panic
The news should not send women into a panic, nor should they feel guilty for using the potentially harmful products, she stressed.
“I would hate for women to blame themselves or panic about something that is meaningful to them,” she said. “This, like other environmental factors that increase the risk of a cancer diagnosis is modifiable.”
The first step is to talk to your obstetrician/gynecologist about potential risk factors, including:
- Limited physical activity
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Family history of uterine cancer or other cancers like colon, bladder or ovarian
It’s also important to alert your provider about any abnormal bleeding. This includes bleeding in between menstrual cycles, an increase in the heaviness of your cycles or any amount of bleeding or spotting after menopause, she said.
“The good news is that uterine cancer can be cured when discovered early enough,” Dr. Palisoul said.