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By Mark DaCosta- Women who used chemical hair straightening products are at more than double the risk for uterine cancer compared to women who did not use those products. That conclusion was reached by a new National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that revealed the findings on Monday October 17.
The comprehensive study tracked 33,947 racially diverse women between the ages of 35 and 74 for an average of approximately 11 years. 378 women in the study developed uterine cancer. The study’s lead author, Alexandra White, the head of the agency’s Environment and Cancer Epidemiology group, said: “We see a doubling of risk for frequent users, and that’s a very alarming figure.” Chandra Jackson, a participant in the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Earl Stadtman Investigators program, who co-authored the study said, “Sixty per cent of the participants who reported using straighteners were Black women. The bottom line is that the exposure burden appears to be higher among Black women.”
While researchers have not yet determined what specific chemical ingredients in hair straighteners are responsible, many scientists are already publicly saying that chemicals such as parabens, phthalates, and formaldehydes are some of the leading suspects. Scientists point out that chemicals that bind to oestrogen receptors increase the risk of cancers of the reproductive system in women, and those suspected ingredients in straighteners may be responsible for the heightened risk of cancer.
Uterine cancers or cancers of the uterus may be one of two types. Endometrial cancers begin in the lining of the uterus (endometrium) and account for about 95 per cent of all cases; and uterine sarcomas, which develop in the muscle tissue (myometrium), and is a rarer form of uterine cancer.
Wendy Greene, a law professor at Drexel Kline School of Law who studies Black hair discrimination said, “Pressure to adhere to societal beauty standards that glorify and prioritise hair textures and styles have led some Black people to rely on harmful hair care products like chemical relaxers.” She calls the pressure the “straight hair mandate,” noting that it can affect Black people’s work, social and educational lives. “Hair care products targeted toward Black women seeking to fit such beauty standards are often full of [harmful] chemicals, many of which aren’t listed on product labels”
Symptoms of uterine cancer include:
- heavier than usual periods or a change in your periods
- vaginal bleeding between periods
- periods that continue without a break.
Less common symptoms include:
- a watery discharge, which may have an unpleasant smell.
- unexplained weight loss
- difficulty urinating or a change in bowel habit
- abdominal pain.
Guyanese women who are concerned should make contact with your doctor or with the Oncology Department of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. The Cancer Institute of Guyana may also be reached at 225-5701.