No Need to Skip Deodorant During Radiation Therapy

Small study could make big difference for breast cancer patients.

Nov. 8, 2010, SAN DIEGO— -- Breast cancer patients don't have to give up deodorant during radiation therapy to avoid skin irritation, a new study has found.

Women undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer often face a long list of restrictions on the use of personal skin care products, including antiperspirant deodorants, if the treatment field includes or is near the armpit. The advice stems from the belief that chemicals in antiperspirants may worsen radiation dermatitis, a condition where skin in the region being treated becomes inflamed.

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In the new study, presented at the American Society for Radiation Oncology Meeting this week, Donna Gies of Tom Baker Cancer Center in Calgary, Alberta, and colleagues studied 198 women with early breast cancer and found that patients who used deodorant were not more likely to develop skin inflammation or irritation during radiation treatment than patients who were told to stop using deodorant.

"There is no evidence to forbid the use of antiperspirants during two-field radiation therapy for breast cancer. Finding evidence to support patient-centered care was an important goal of this study," Gies said.

"The advice to stop using deodorant during radiation therapy came from the belief that heavier elements in some antiperspirants, such as aluminum, would interact with radiation to create a higher dose and a greater risk of skin toxicity," said Dr. Phillip Devlin, a radiation oncologist at Harvard University in Boston. "This is one of the wonderful trends in medicine, that we are not just asking the huge, huge questions that require multiple thousands of randomized patients to decide process of care."

Antiperspirant Deodorant Study May Allay Women's Concerns

Many women are concerned about body odor if they follow the advice, the investigators noted. But cancer experts note that they may not always communicate the impact of these skin care restrictions to their doctors.

"I believe a significant, or at least a modest, proportion of our patients are inconvenienced and likely distressed by the deodorant limitation during radiation," said Dr. Julia Wong, a radiation oncologist at the Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston. "Few voice objections, probably given the situation at hand, but I expect it is on the minds of many of our patients."

Dr. Gary Freedman, a radiation oncologist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, said the small study should have a meaningful impact on patients. "These studies lead to further evidence that avoidance of these products is more of an old wives' tale in radiation therapy than based on fact."

"I think we should change our practice guidelines," Wong said. "Our prior practice was based on theoretical concerns and anecdotal experience. We are fortunate to have randomized trials such as this one to help us improve our practice."