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.