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Woman Sues 5 Companies Alleging Their Hair Straightening Chemicals Caused Cervical Cancer

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Jenny Mitchell said she started using chemical hair straightening products in 2000 when she was in the third grade.

Nearly two decades later, Mitchell, now 32, was diagnosed with uterine cancer, despite having no family history of the disease. She said that she had no choice but to undergo a full hysterectomy to remove her uterus.

“Not being able to bring my own children has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with,” she told “Good Morning America.” “This is a dream of mine that I have always wanted.”

Now Mitchell, represented by a group of attorneys including Ben Crump, is suing five hair straightener makers, including L’Oreal USA, alleging their products caused her cancer.

Their suit, filed in Illinois, comes a week after a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and funded by the National Institutes of Health suggested that frequent users of chemical hair-straightening products may be more likely to of developing uterine cancer than those who did not use these products.

Scientists warn that it is not yet clear whether these products cause cancer. For now, the research only hints at a likely link.

About 60% of the women in the study who reported using chemical straightening products self-identified as black women.

After her hysterectomy, Jenny Mitchell said she can no longer have children.

ABC News

When Mitchell found out about the study, she said she was “shocked.”

“But at the same time, I also thought maybe this could be a response to my diagnosis,” he said.

Mitchell said many black women like her face pressure to use hair-straightening products, which she said she typically uses every four weeks, to meet American beauty standards.

“As an African-American woman, it’s a social norm for your hair to look a certain way,” she said. “‘Don’t wear your natural hair because it looks unprofessional.’ A lot of women deal with that in all kinds of settings.”

“I hope to be the voice of millions of other African-American women because we started very young, with these chemical relaxers in our hair,” she added.

The defendants did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Uterine cancer rates and deaths are rising in the US, with death rates higher among non-Hispanic black women, according to the National Institutes of Health, which tracked data from 34,000 women in the Sister Study over more of a decade. The Sister Study is a project that has been tracking the health of some 50,000 women in the US since 2003.

According to the study, chemical hair straighteners typically contain products that are known endocrine disruptors and can affect hormone-sensitive cancers. The products include parabens, bisphenol A, metals and formaldehyde, according to the NIH study researchers. Chemical relaxers can cause lesions and burns on the scalp, making it easier for them to be absorbed into the body, Dr. Madeliene Gainers, a board-certified dermatologist who was not involved in the study, told ABC News.

But the authors of the new study said “more research is needed” to determine whether hair-straightening chemicals can be shown to increase the risk of uterine cancer.

The study also only identifies an association between uterine cancer and the products, not a causal relationship: that one thing directly caused another, which Mitchell will need to prove.

PHOTO: Civil rights attorney Ben Crump (right), along with attorney Diandra

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump (right), along with attorney Diandra “Fu” Debrosse Zimmermann (center, left) represent Jenny Mitchell (left) in her lawsuit against L’Oreal USA.

ABC News

Crump said they also hope the lawsuit will spread greater awareness about the potentially harmful chemicals in hair relaxers so women can make more informed decisions for their health.

“Now that we have this knowledge, we have this information, it behooves us to bring them in,” he said. “We have to make this a public health crisis.”

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