Millions of Black women are familiar with using a product that just recently has been linked to possible uterine cancer.
A study from the National Institutes of Health last month showed women who use chemical hair relaxers or straighteners may have a higher risk of the cancer. A Missouri woman is now suing five beauty companies — including L’Oréal — claiming the relaxers caused her uterine cancer at the age of 28. That diagnosis eventually led to a hysterectomy.
Patrice Yursik is a beauty blogger and creator of Afrobella. She says the practice of hair relaxing begins form a very young age.
“I grew up with that. I first was taken to get a relaxer when I was 6 years old,” Yursik said, adding the practice is passed down from generation to generation. “I can say that my own mother was taught that her hair was not presentable unless it was straightened and flat ironed.”
Yursik says the need to chemically relax hair begins at a young age.
“Many of us are taught from an early age that our hair is unmanageable or unprofessional or untidy, or of course it must be therefore tamed by these caustic chemicals and this is not just an American issue, this is global,” she said.
Dr. June McKoy, a professor of medicine and cancer researcher at Northwestern University, says the study’s findings are a big deal.
“There are three or four components that are definite carcinogens. We know that the scalp absorbs things very well and it gets right into the system, and we know that we already know that this is a product people use repeatedly over time,” McKoy said. “ … We see high cancer rates among older adults over time exposure leaves cancer in some form.”
Dr. Nita Karnik Lee, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago, points out that while uterine cancer is rare compared to breast cancer.
“Unlike other cancers where you see a trend and people are celebrating that there is progress being made, we are actually not seeing that progress in uterine cancer,” Lee said. “We are seeing every year more women being diagnosed with uterine cancer, and this becomes a more lethal cancer in general.”
Lee says there is a very significant disparity between Black women and White women and overall survival rates.
When it comes to uterine cancer, Lee points out that the disparities in death rates isn’t necessarily due to lack of access.
“There are also biological differences in the cell types of which cancers women are getting in a different way that may drive a lot of the increase deaths,” she said.
Lee says the study is important because it will lead to more research and increased awareness of the chemicals in these products.
McKoy is direct when it comes to the use of hair relaxers.
“I would advise women strongly to stop using them. The association is so strong that I would advise not to use it,” she said.