Skin lighteners and hair relaxers, both common among women of African descent, have been suggested as possibly affecting breast cancer risk. In Accra and Kumasi, Ghana, we collected detailed information on usage patterns of both exposures among 1,131 invasive breast cancer cases and 2,106 population-controls. Multivariate analyses estimated odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) after adjustment for breast cancer risk factors. Control usage was 25.8% for ever use of skin lighteners and 90.0% for use of hair relaxers for >1 year. The OR for skin lighteners was 1.10 (95% CI 0.93-1.32), with higher risks for former (1.21, 0.98-1.50) than current (0.96, 0.74-1.24) users. No significant dose-response relations were seen by duration, age at first or frequency of use. In contrast, an OR of 1.58 (95% CI 1.15-2.18) was associated with hair relaxers, with higher risks for former (2.22, 1.56-3.16) than current (1.39, 1.00-1.93) users. Although numbers of burns were inconsistently related to risk, associations increased with duration of use, restricted to women who predominately used non-lye products (p for trend<0.01). This was most pronounced among women with few children and those with smaller tumors, suggesting a possible role for other unmeasured lifestyle factors. This study does not implicate a substantial role for skin lighteners as breast cancer risk factors, but the findings regarding hair relaxers were less reassuring. The effects of skin lighteners and hair relaxers on breast cancer should continue to be monitored, especially given some biologic plausibility for their affecting risk.
- Journal Article