Bras and breast cancer: the deets

I recently saw a post on WordPress that intrigued me. The post was concerning bras and their potential for causing breast cancer. Now, I can honestly say that I’d never heard of this before. But then again, why would I? I don’t make a habit of shopping for bras right? Well, that’s true but I also work in the medical domain so the idea that bras could cause breast cancer did intrigue me and I did some digging. 


The idea that wearing an underwired bra can cause breast cancer has been around since 1995, when Sydney Singer and Soma Grismaijer published their book Dressed to Kill, which claimed there was a link. The idea was revived more recently when a practitioner of alternative medicine wrote an essay on Gwyneth Paltrow’s website, Goop. 

It should be stressed though that none of the people mentioned above are either cancer researchers or certified clinicians. 
If you work in the field of medicine like myself, you become distinctly aware of how research is validated or certified if you will.  Essentially, research, as well as review articles that are valued within the scientific community undergo stringent assessments in the form of peer review (this is where your work is assessed by other scientists in the field). In the top journals, peer review is often blinded, performed by experts and is usually organised so that the researchers are in no way associated to avoid bias. 

It should also be noted that journals are ranked by impact factors. This essentially is determined via the number of citations a journal has over a particular time frame. The best journals have the best articles that are read the most and are cited the most. The top work is usually cited frequently as to be expected. 

With that in mind, it is important to note that Singer and Grismaijer’s “study” was not reviewed by medical experts, nor was it published in a respected journal. According to a version of their story, they interviewed more than 4,000 American women and discovered that women who don’t wear bras have a “1 in 168 chance” of developing breast cancer, as opposed to a “3 in 4 chance for those who wear a bra 24 hours a day”.

Their explanation for this is simply that underwired bras block circulation of lymphatic fluid, causing breasts to swell with what they called “toxins”.  However, the cold truth is that it is unlikely that lymph fluid would be trapped by an underwire, because it doesn’t flow in that direction, and a properly fitting bra prevents breast ligaments from overstretching. 

Scientists have also criticised Dressed to Kill for not taking into account known risk factors for breast cancer, most notably obesity, which increases the likelihood a woman will wear a bra for longer periods.

It should also be noted that a comprehensive 2014 study by the globally respected Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre in Seattle found that no aspect of bra-wearing was associated with breast cancer risk, and Breast Cancer Now, Cancer Research UK, the American Cancer Society, and the US National Institutes of Health are just a few of the organisations that have stressed the clear lack of evidence that wearing bras increases cancer risk.

This myth that wearing bras can cause breast cancer is actually a cruel one for the very reason that it is perpetuating the idea that breast cancer is purely self inflicted and that breast cancer sufferers are responsible for having this horrible sickness just because they wore a bra. 

For those interested in the risk factors and probable causes of breast cancer, you can check out this informative link HERE from Cancer Research UK. 

Now, I am not going to harp on about the pros and cons of wearing bras. It truly is not for me to decide as man. Personally, I think they look great but should that be a reason to wear them? And from reading various reports, it seems that there is no definitive benefits for wearing them or not wearing them though nothing is conclusive. So I guess what I’m saying is that I suppose it is a personal choice whether you do or you don’t. Either way, if you like your bras, I feel it is important that you are aware of the facts as they are. And until more data comes out that states otherwise, I think it is safe to assume that your bra will not kill you. 

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2 thoughts on “Bras and breast cancer: the deets

  1. Why do doctors comment on the bra-cancer link without doing their research? I am the medical anthropologist breast cancer researcher discussed in this article. I am also the author of Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras.

    There are numerous peer reviewed studies supporting the bra-cancer link. See below for references. The first two references are from 2016 and 2015.

    The Hutchinson study cited in the article was seriously flawed and was actually designed as a hit piece against the bra-cancer link. There were no bra-free women in that study, which means there was no control group. There were only post-menopausal lifetime bra users. That’s like studying the impact of smoking on lung cancer and only looking at lifetime heavy smokers, omitting non-smokers. Bad study!

    If you look at the red marks and indentations on the skin left by a bra you can see the pressure is around the entire breast and up to the shoulders. It’s not just the underwire that causes compression. And when you see the deep grooves in the shoulders of large busted women who wear bras, it is clear that the pressure is not only at the underwire.

    The fact is that bra-free women have about the same incidence of breast cancer as men, while the tighter and longer the bra is worn the higher the incidence rises.

    Here are some references. If the doctor who wrote this article reads these, perhaps she will become educated about this leading cause of breast cancer. (By the way, tight bras also cause breast pain and cysts, and bras cause the breasts to droop. Getting rid of the bra improves breast health and causes the breasts to lift and tone.)

    1. Wearing a Tight Bra for Many Hours a Day is Associated with Increased Risk of Breast Cancer

    Adv Oncol Res Treat 1: 105.

    http://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/wearing-a-tight-bra-for-many-hours-a-day-is-associated-with-increasedrisk-of-breast-cancer-aot-1000105.php?aid=72034

    2. Comparative study of breast cancer risk factors at Kenyatta National Hospital and the Nairobi Hospital
    J. Afr. Cancer (2015) 7:41-46

    http://erepository.uonbi.ac.ke/bitstream/handle/11295/80043/Othieno-Abinya_Comparative%20study%20of%20breast%20cancer%20risk%20factors%20at%20Kenyatta%20National.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

    3. Bra linked to breast cancer.

    http://www.scotsman.com/news/bras-linked-to-rise-in-breast-cancer-1-3422526

    4. [A case-control study on risk factors of female breast cancer in Zhejiang province].

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23086643

    5. Breast size, handedness and breast cancer risk.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1827274

    What should you believe? Believe in your own body. Try going one month bra-free and see how your breasts feel. That should tell you if your bra has been harming you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Before I provide my rebuttal to your comments, I want to personally thank you for taking the time to respond to this post. I certainly value the discussion of any scientific literature and welcome your comments.

      Now, regarding your articles:

      Let’s just take into consideration these papers for a second.

      1. The article by da Silva Rios was published in a low impact factored non-Medline indexed journal. And while I will not completely discredit an article based on where it was published, you would have a seed of doubt that a major breakthrough would be published here. Nevertheless, the article did say that they found a correlation between bra wearing and breast cancer. Even so, the study said itself it suffered from some major limitations and that the subjects, being of low socioeconomic status could have not been well nourished. Also, there is the suggestion of obesity in patients with the tight fitted bras, another postulated risk factor.

      2. The second article interesting did show a correlation. I noticed they cited your work also. I do note that they postulated that it might only be a risk if in conjunction with other risk factors. The number of patients that fell under the category of wearing bras all the time was quite small and I’m not sure if that % is a big enough sample size for that assumption.

      3. The Scotsman. Not a peer reviewed article. Regardless it said

      “Still, even if tumour location has changed since the 1950s, there’s no evidence at all that it’s linked to the use of personal grooming products, wearing a bra or shaving, all of which were activities that women were doing in the 1950s as well as now. “The best ways to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer are keeping to a healthy weight, being physically active and cutting down on the booze.”

      4. I can’t comment on the full article as it is in Chinese but again it seems as if it is making bold statements with patients that have multiple variables that could be considered risk factors for breast cancer.

      5. Quote from the article

      “Premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users (P about 0.09), possibly because they are thinner and likely to have smaller breasts. Among bra users, larger cup size was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer (P about 0.026), although the association was found only among postmenopausal women and was accounted for, in part, by obesity. These data suggest that bra cup size (and conceivably mammary gland size) may be a risk factor for breast cancer.”

      I would say that this demonstrates far from hard fact.

      I would say unfortunately that there is not any hard evidence that supports your claims.

      Like

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