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breast health, cancer, woo

Your bra is not killing you

The myth that bras cause breast cancer is apparently coming ‘round the barn again. The latest scare-you-out-of-your-brassiere “article” claims there are “five research studies” that show a strong correlation between bra wearing and breast cancer. Well, that certainly sounds all scientific.

Why the bra hullaballoo? A couple of anthropologists wrote a whole book about their incorrect theory back in 1995, Dressed to kill: The link between breast cancer and bras. Every now and then someone digs it up and it makes for shocking news and more importantly page views. However, a quick look at the claims made by the authors and apparently supported by some naturopaths, midwives, and even Joe Mercola, the Godfather of Woo, shows that they are based in nothing but the desire to sell a book/service/product.

The authors (not medical doctors or cancer researchers) Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer from the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Diseases opine that bras restrict the flow of lymphatic fluid keeping “toxins” in the breast where they can cause mayhem (*note, the use of toxins in a quasi-medical sense is snake oil alert). They compare this phenomenon to swelling in the feet and ankles on long flights. Huh? The complete medical gibberish of this aside if your breasts are swollen when you remove your bra at the end of the day just like your feet on a transatlantic flight then you are wearing a bra about 4 sizes too small. It might hurt, but it’s still not going to give you cancer. This statement also leads me to believe that the woman of this duo must never have actually worn a bra or at least one that fit. I have never, ever heard a woman say, “This bra has made my breasts swell to a disproportionate size.” In fact, if there were a bra that could defy the laws of physics and biology and once removed leave the breast tissue larger for a period of time it might be popular.

Doing my due diligence I decided to check this dynamic duo’s assertions. A quick trip over to PubMed where Ibar_jpg typed “bra wearing breast cancer” into the trusty little search tool, filtering of course for clinical trials, showed, ah, nothing. So then I looked at a multitude of articles on risk factors for breast cancer. Genetics, obesity, larger breast size, sex hormone exposure, breastfeeding, physical activity, smoking, and diet all popped up. Bras? Not so much. I clearly did my research correctly as I found a wealth of articles on proper bra fit for women post-mastectomy and even articles on how discomfort with exercise bras affect how women exercise after breast cancer, but nothing on cause an effect between bras and cancer.

I did find an opinion piece (not a research study) dispelling the whole bra/breast cancer myth from the Mayo Clinic Womens Healthsource from 2002 and because PubMed has a neat little tool that brings up related articles, so I thought I might finally find those five shy “research studies.” Alas, I did not.

Apparently, the authors of the lethal bra book quote a 1991 Harvard study that says bras cause cancer! That sounds legit. The study was published in the European Journal of Cancer in 1991 by Hsieh, Breast size, handedness, and breast cancer risk. The only problem? The study does not say that bras cause cancer, but that larger breasts are a risk factor:

“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.”

Larger breasts have a higher risk of cancer not because larger breasted women are more likely to wear bras or underwires, but because more breast tissue means more cells to potentially go haywire and because obesity is a risk factor for breast cancer (heavier women tender to have larger breasts).

There are no studies giving credence to the biological implausible theory that wearing a bra causes breast cancer. If tight clothing were carcinogenic then breast cancer would be decreasing because in days gone by women were trussed up and strapped down to the Dickens in corsets. And why would this phenomenon be linked with bras alone? What about the dangers of shoes and skinny jeans?

And finally, if lymphatic obstruction caused cancer then people with lymphatic filariasis would have a dramatic increased risk of cancer (they don’t) and lymph node dissection would negatively impact cancer survival (it doesn’t).

Breast cancer is scary and when people make false claims wrapped in scientific terms it makes people worry. Whether it’s anti-vaccine mumbo jumbo or breast cancer scares using junk science to sell your shit is wrong.

So rest assured that your bra is not killing you, unless it’s the wrong size then it might hurt a little.

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Discussion

31 thoughts on “Your bra is not killing you

  1. Thank you for correcting the “cod” science of bras and breast cancer.

    Posted by autosoma | April 13, 2014, 1:33 pm
  2. Loved the “snake oil” reference!

    Posted by Bryan | April 13, 2014, 8:15 pm
  3. Perhaps you should try finding the original source material instead of showing your biases and jumping to negative conclusions without any support for your claims that there is no bra-cancer link. Or are you paid to make these attacks against us and the bra-cancer link?

    If you did any real research, you would have found the original source, our book Dressed To Kill, and read it before judging it. And since the boycott being called against Komen and the American Cancer Society is based on this information being dismissed out of hand, as you are doing,and not getting the attention it deserves, it makes no sense to say a lack of studies shows this is false. We are calling for more studies. Lack of studies does not mean lack of truth. It means lack of interest and suppression of the research.

    To find the 5 studies referred to, go to our source article: http://www.killerculture.com/breast-cancer-researchers-call-for-boycott-of-komen-foundation-and-american-cancer-society/ . If you had any hint of real curiosity, instead of an agenda to dismiss this information, you would have found this on your own, as any researcher would have done.

    Finally, you should know that breast size has very little if anything to do with breast cancer incidence, which is one of the findings of that very same Harvard study. So the Harvard study results of 100% higher incidence of breast cancer in bra wearing women compared to bra-free cannot be explained by breast size, or amount of breast tissue as you claim. It can’t be explained by obesity, either. It’s the bra.

    Whatever your motives are for publishing this article, science and open-mindedness are not part of it.

    Posted by Sydney Singer | April 13, 2014, 11:44 pm
    • If you were not trying to scare women this comment might be funny. Who do you think might be paying me? Wacoal? Oh my, that is rich.

      There is no science to support your claim that bras cause breast cancer. If there were it would appear in legitimate medical search engines, but it doesn’t. Your interpretation of the 1991 paper (you really need some more recent research, BTW) is incorrect and apparently not one reached by the authors. Your dismissal of bra size and obesity as risk factors (well validated in multiple studies) shows a clear lack of understanding of the science.

      It’s kind of funny that someone selling a book that promotes a false claim is accusing me of some kind of bias! If you read my post you would see that I legitimately addressed the claim and found zero evidence to support it.

      Do you really think the lingerie makers of America (or some other nefarious league) is suppressing important data on bras and cancer? Really, you really think that? And while I’m no fan of Komen, what do they care about bras? Really, it has nothing to do with their pink washing. How would telling women not to wear bras 24/7 impact Komen? Really!?

      The lack of medical evidence means doesn’t mean there is a global scheme afoot to suppress data, rather it means the following:
      1) There have been a multitude of demographic studies looking and breast cancer and NONE have identified bra wearing as a risk factor
      2) Multiple MDs and medical reporters (i.e. not just me, but since you post on all the web sites that legitimately address your claims you know that!) have questioned your hypothesis and found zero validity.
      3) Physiologically your claim makes no sense. Breast cancer isn’t due to “toxins”and BTW the human body doesn’t make toxins!
      4) If lymphatic obstruction caused cancer then everyone with filiariasis would get cancer, but they don’t.

      If you come back and post anything other than a study that supports your claim (a study published in a legitimate peer reviewed medical journal) it will be flagged as spam and your IP address blocked.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | April 15, 2014, 3:46 am
      • I am a student of massage therapy. Yesterday we learned breast massage as a way to help decongest breast tissue related to hormonal cycles, pregnancy, lactation and post-surgery. I admit I was hesitant to take part in this class, but once I had experienced breast massage, I was quite impressed with it. It was not as awkward as I feared, and my breasts felt lighter and lifted after the treatment. Have you seen any research on breast massage and breast health? I am curious if it has health benefits for the average woman outside of increasing comfort.

        Also, during this class, our instructor told us that breast movement (bounce) was needed for proper drainage of the breast tissue (and therefore healthy breast tissue). We were told that women should avoid wearing a bra “all day” and definitely not sleep in a bra at night so that the retro-mammary tissue had time to decompress and drain the lymphatics and interstitial fluids that may accumulate. As well, we were told that the less restrictive the bra (aka: the more bounce) the better- with the exception of high-impact sports. I am struggling to find conclusive evidence for this, but at the same time the theory behind it makes some sense. To be clear, the instructor did not suggest a link between breast cancer and bra wearing. We were strictly talking about congestion and comfort.

        I have large post-pregnancy/post-breastfeeding breasts (32DD). I wear under-wire bras 24 hours a day. I feel quite awkward not wearing a bra (even just at home) as I am self-conscious about the sagging that has occurred, and worry about further sagging. I do find that my “properly fitted” bras do feel a little restrictive and uncomfortable. In you opinion is there any benefit for me to go bra-free at night or wear a ‘less-fitted’ bra to allow some ‘bounce’. Will wearing a ‘supportive’ bra actually help prevent further sagging, or am I being uncomfortable for nothing?

        I greatly respect your opinion and would like to know your thoughts.

        Posted by Ebony369 | July 26, 2014, 7:51 am
    • Gee your ‘study’ found “bra-free women have about the same incidence of breast cancer as men. 24/7 bra wearing increases incidence over 100 times that of a bra-free woman.”

      I can’t imagine why this is only published in your book and not in any of the medical journals. Imagine a researcher finding something that increased cancer by 10000% !!! Something that significant could be found very easily in any cancer study. You are a shameless hack, did you even read the Chinese paper you reference? Of the 500 something women with breast cancer, did you even look at the p-values of the questioned women who wore a bra to sleep? If anything it invalidates your argument and is yet another journal paper that goes against you. Other than the 1991 Harvard paper that invalidates your claims as explained above, you have no research. Don’t you think someone who makes claims of 100 times more incidence (maybe you meant 100% higher incidence as you wrote here) should be able to do a simple questionaire and find obvious correlation and get it published. Are you that scientifically illiterate you do not know what 100 times and 100% more mean?

      Posted by Uso Clueless | April 16, 2014, 9:30 am
    • Singer has decided that the absence of evidence is evidence of presence.

      Posted by madder | April 16, 2014, 11:30 am
    • Mr. Singer, I’m looking at the Venezuelan study you cite on your page. It says that wearing a bra **that is too small** (“uno más pequeño de lo ideal”) can lead to breast problems such as “alergias o infecciones” (allergies or infections). This study looked at 73 women aged 13 to 72, none of whom was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I question how exactly it supports your conclusion that bras are linked to cancer–especially since it found that the women who had started wearing bras earlier (10-11 years old) were LESS likely to have any mammary pathologies than women who had started wearing bras at an older age.

      Posted by Daleth | August 1, 2014, 9:12 am
  4. I applaud you once again for your due diligence in getting the information about bras and cancer. It is most informative and this information really needs to get out to the mass majority.

    And as this is a straight forward , no BS comment section, I have only one disappointing comment; that you feel Mercola is the godfather of Woo. I can totally understand why you would come to this assumption, for there are articles etc., that would lead one to believe he is full of woo. In my due diligence of this person and his articles I have found that 95% of what he states is true. So yes, we are all entitled to our opinions, but I was rather surprised by this one.

    Thank you again for sharing these very important no nonsense articles with us.

    Posted by Antonia | April 14, 2014, 5:47 pm
    • Thanks for commenting.

      Mercola is anti-vaccine, pro-tanning beds, pro-thermography, against vitamin K shots, against amalgam filling, and fluoride (for starters). He really promotes a lot of junk medicine. He’d also been cited by the FDA for spurious claims about thermography () and for the claims he makes about his supplements.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | April 15, 2014, 3:11 am
      • Not that I follow Dr Mercola he does have some very interesting points, but as long as you follow the book and don’t ask questions, you will remain there.

        Posted by Terry | September 20, 2014, 1:42 pm
  5. I learned something new by reading this. I had no idea that there were bra conspiracy theorists. Also, I’m surprised that the bra conspiracy theorists aren’t just dudes who want to see braless women.

    Posted by t1theinfamous | April 16, 2014, 8:48 pm
  6. Reblogged this on Willow's Corner and commented:
    I’m reblogging this because I read the original article about bras causing breast cancer and almost fell for it. Instead I did my research as this person did and found that the article was a bunch of woo using scare tactics.

    Posted by wscottling | April 27, 2014, 7:10 pm
  7. This sounds like nonsense as much as the other articles. Without proper research one cannot truthfully claim that bras don’t cause cancer nor can it be truthfully claimed that they do. Everyone should decide what is best for them. There’s really nothing wrong with either option, and until more scientific research is done we should probably stop making false claims on both sides of this argument. I think everyone should keep in mind that it is not wrong to decide not to wear a bra. There is evidence that many people get better sleep at night without one and that you shouldn’t wear a under-wire bra 24/7. Bra’s and corsets were made to fit our bodies into what was considered fashionable at the time, so it was not about making things better for women, it’s about clothes. And French scientist did 15 years of research that indicated bra’s actually may cause women’s breasts to sag more than the women who had gone braless.

    Posted by J | May 25, 2014, 9:39 am
    • Oh my, where to start. The research has been done, the answers are in. Read Dr Gunter’s posts. As for “everyone should decide what is best for them” that’s fine provided they are properly informed and have sufficient background knowledge to understand the information but is not fine when they are basing their decisions on a lot of pseudo-scientific scaremongering. I hear that far too often from the same people who claim they have “done their research” and then smugly say that “we shall have to agree to disagree” when called out on their errors.
      Please present proper references to support your other claims.

      Posted by Jane Cobb | June 11, 2014, 3:11 pm
  8. i have a breast canser, then what are the healthy brassieres for me.

    Posted by katrina | July 11, 2014, 1:42 pm
  9. Dr. Gunter, since the medical profession really doesn’t have a clue as to the cause of breast cancer, I find your smug dismissal of a very plausible hypothesis to be uncalled for. I know how little regard you have for anecdotal evidence, but all discoveries start from simple observation and all truth is initially dismissed before it is finally embraced (as Ignaz Semmelweis found out in the 1800′s). Here are two links that should give you pause:

    1. http://all-natural.com/fibrocys.html – It contains seven case histories of relief of pain and cysts by stopping use of bras.

    2. http://www.isisboston.com/assets/PDF-Files/Bras-and-Breast-Cancer.pdf – An article by Sydney Ross Singer, of which the following is an excerpt:

    “We then did a follow-up study to our first US study. This time we went to Fiji, where half the population is bra-free. We approached the Health Ministry and asked for their assistance. Once we told them our theory, they exclaimed, “That explains why our working women are now getting breast cancer They are the ones who wear bras!” Over the next few months we went from village to village and obtained over 20 case histories of breast cancer. All were in women who wore bras. We found that, given women from the same village (genetically related), with the same diet, the ones who developed breast cancer were the ones who wore bras.”

    Posted by jpi108 | August 9, 2014, 2:26 pm
    • Your comment is really trolling, but I just had to let it stand so people can read it. If you honestly think t case histories or 20 case histories of women who wore bras is a study, I’m simply at a loss for words.

      Bras causing cancer is not in anyway a plausible hypothesis. The links you provide are not science.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | August 12, 2014, 7:11 pm
    • Oh, and my dismissing the crackpot fear mongering that you call science isn’t being smug, it’s being aghast that someone would so pervert science to such a degree for such an end.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | August 12, 2014, 7:20 pm
  10. Hear hear Dr Gunter! As a breast reconstruction surgeon, you’d be surprised at some of the things my patients ask me about breast cancer and its causes. I am sick of so called ‘scientific’ experts who take advantage of these scared women so they can buy books, advice, products etc. in the hope to ‘stop’ cancer. One Japanese woman said her nutritionist told her she got breast cancer because she didn’t eat cheese…. So she was sold ‘cheese supplements’, which with her lactose intolerance gave her chronic diarrhoea (which apparently was a sign she was expelling her toxins). REALLY?!?!?!

    Posted by surgeryattiffanys | August 13, 2014, 7:10 pm
    • It is very clear that cancer is a multi billion dollar business. Anything that even suggests that it can be prevented is referred to quackery. I hope that the next generation realizes this and searches for better answers then the deadly cures they claim help people. Money talks as well as big pharma! Mammograms are just another very sad part of this whole screening process.

      Posted by Terry | September 20, 2014, 1:40 pm
  11. People, don’t you think that if bras really did cause breast cancer, wouldn’t it be advised be your doctor when not to wear one? I’m told this story by a family member who was a nurse yet I do not belive that wearing bras increase your chance of getting breast cancer. Toxins are not created by the body, if there is some from let’s say something you ate. Your body is more likely to sweat it out or get rid of it in the bathroom. But you know letting loose just helps the body relax, also know that “it” might sag so it might be a good idea not to do that all the time. Of course this is just my opinion, so no offense to you doctors and/or scientists reading this who might have a different opinion.

    Posted by Destiny | September 17, 2014, 8:39 pm

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