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breast health, cancer

Hey Gwyneth Paltrow, a GYN says stop scaring women about bras and breast cancer

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 11.51.09 PMGwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP is the latest site to stoke false fears about bras and breast cancer (scaremongering being a nice touch for breast cancer awareness month – wraps up the whole October fright fest thing with a pink bow). The post is written by Dr. Habib Sadeghi, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and apparently the person who brought us the term conscious uncoupling.

Dr. Sadeghi dives right into the nonsense quoting a debunked book from 1995, Dressed to Kill, as if it were medical literature. He states that a 1991 study found that “pre-menopausal women who did not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer when compared to bra users. ” Except that’s not what the study found. The study published in the European Journal of Cancer in 1991 by Hsieh, entitled Breast size, handedness, and breast cancer risk, found the following:

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.

The conclusion from this study was breast size increased the risk of breast cancer and not because larger breasts need more manhandling by underwires, but possibly because larger breasts are associated with obesity a known risk for breast cancer.*

Dr. Sadeghi also quotes “research” by the authors of Dressed to Kill, Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer, that claims to have followed 5,000 women over two years linking breast cancer to bra wearing. Except the good doctor’s
definition of research and mine clearly differ –  this data is not published in any medical journal. Singer and his cohort Grismaijer have zero publications regarding breast cancer according to PubMed. They can throw around any numbers they want, but if their unpublished study wasn’t IRB approved and the data isn’t available for peer review it’s worthless. Oh, and neither Singer nor Grismaijer are doctors or cancer researchers.

Sadeghi and another one of his experts, Dr. Michael Schacter MD of the Schacter Center for Complementary Medicine, worry that bras impede lymphatic flow. This, they opine, could cause “toxic chemicals” to be trapped in the breast. This theory isn’t backed by any scientific articles, but rather by a manual on complementary health authored by Schacter in 1996 (The Prevention and Complementary Treatment of Breast Cancer). Lymphatic obstruction is not a risk factor for cancer. If it were all the lymph node dissections done to save people from various cancers would paradoxically be killing them. We actually have mountains of data on outcomes after lymph node dissection, so if impeding lymph flow caused cancer we’d know.

As an aside I don’t know what kind of bras these men have seen, but if your bra is impeding your lymphatic flow it is going to harm you because it will hurt. A lot. The kind of compression required to impact lymphatic flow is pretty significant. Maybe they should all wear one for a day or two so they can better understand exactly what a bra is and how it fits and works.

Sadeghi also postulates that a bra could raise the temperature of breast tissue. Does he know that bras are not down filled or made of mink? Facts about fabrics and the thermogenic properties of bras aside, he considers this a valid theory (bras raising breast temperature) because “It’s been known for quite some time that men who regularly wear tight-fitting pants can disturb testosterone production and even their fertility by altering the temperature of the testicles.” Yes, because if men who wear tight-fitting pants can have fertility concerns then obviously tight bras cause cancer. Except testicles are not homologues of the breast and tight pants don’t affect fertility. The whole boxers vs briefs thing is a myth, however, heat (like a hot tub) can damage sperm cells. It’s nothing to do with testosterone, it’s a direct effect of heat on spermatogenesis.

There is a fairly robust case control study (or as robust as we are likely to see) by Dr. Chen et. al. showing no risk with bra wearing in 2014 (never mind that the connection seems biologically implausible), but Sadeghi questions that study because big cancer doesn’t want a bra-breast cancer link because all of us non complementary and alternative doctors who don’t offer lymphatic rejuvenation therapy in our clinics are really tools of Big Lingerie. Sadeghi says, “Perhaps the researchers felt it was inappropriate to implicate bras in breast cancer when they’re used to raise money for the institution.” He is questioning the validity of the study because the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle (where Dr. Chen works) gets money from a 5K called the Bra Dash. Researchers, clearly desperate to get the money from the 5K that has participants wear pink bras are hiding data on bras and breast cancer. Does GOOP have an editor that actually approves this stuff?

And then there is the wire, yes, Sadeghi postulates that an underwire could “magnify and sustain electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) and radiation from things like cell phones and Wi-Fi.” Sorry, it IS as far-fetched as it sounds.

There is no science to back up a bra and breast cancer connection, never mind that the mechanism is biologically implausible. The myth has been debunked so many times I have lost track, but if you want more data read Dr. David Gorski, a cancer surgeon (so someone who knows a lot more about breast cancer than Sadeghi, Singer, or Schacter). He has debunked the myth several times. There is also no data to suggest carrying your cell phone in your bra can cause cancer. By the way, Sadeghi doesn’t think you should even have WiFi in your house.

It’s so ludicrous that it should be funny, except some women will read this and be scared.

Ladies, wear your bra or don’t. Your choice. Heck, wear it to bed if it’s comfortable. It’s all good. If it’s digging in get a fitting from an expert, not because it could be building up toxins but because everyone should know the joy of a well-fitted bra.


Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 12.00.03 AM

*August 1, 2017 This post has been updated as the language about breast size and breast cancer was clunky and could possibly lead to some confusion. The association between breast cancer and bra size specifically relates to the 1991 article that is quoted above (i.e. what the study actually concluded, not what Paltrow’s expert concluded).


38 thoughts on “Hey Gwyneth Paltrow, a GYN says stop scaring women about bras and breast cancer

  1. I hope Schacter’s center is for Complementary medicine, and not Complimentary. (Although I wouldn’t underestimate the power of my doctor telling me my hair looks cute.)

    Posted by Rachel | October 20, 2015, 5:05 am
  2. Gwyneth Paltrow never ceases to provide blog material. Why does she keep putting that crap out there??

    Posted by sweetsound | October 20, 2015, 9:32 am
  3. If underwires caused cancer by funneling EMF right to your breast tissue, wouldn’t jeans be causing all kinds of problems with their metal zippers, rivets and buttons? Wouldn’t snaps on baby onesies be causing an epidemic of shoulder cancer in infants? Shouldn’t anyone with a piercing have a higher risk of cancer in the area they are pierced? I don’t even understand this argument.

    Posted by sdamot | October 20, 2015, 1:05 pm
  4. .09 is not a statistically significant finding, anyway!!! GOOP needs to take a statistics class. re: “premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users (P about 0.09),”

    Posted by elizabeth1657 | October 20, 2015, 2:02 pm
  5. Snapping off my down-filled, mink covered lymphatic restrictive bra right now! And that’s what been wrong all these years! NOT!

    And Ms. GOOP has size A breasts … if they are even that size … SHE DOESN’T NEED TO WEAR A BRA! If only my titties were so perky! I’d certainly be happy to wear all those tank tops and go braless. You bet I would!

    Posted by elizabetcetera | October 20, 2015, 6:22 pm
  6. Reblogged this on thebreastlife and commented:
    Women need to be given facts and science, not BS.

    Posted by thebreastlife | October 21, 2015, 10:05 am
  7. Wonder what he thinks about folks that have Lymphedema and need to wear compression in order to help move their lymphatic fluid?

    Posted by techwoman | October 21, 2015, 4:54 pm
  8. Thank you for writing this. I am a breast oncology surgeon. I had subscribed to GOOP because I like the recipes and travel items, but reading that article made my blood boil so much that I had to type out a diatribe about how irresponsible it was when unsubscribing. What’s worst about this article: it distracts women from the real risk factors that they should be considering.

    Posted by Shannon Tierney, MD, MS, FACS | October 23, 2015, 11:22 am
  9. This is just one more example of why I don’t consider osteopaths real doctors. I can already hear you defenders exclaiming “they’re trained just like MDs!” Yet here we are, deep in the forests of Quackland. The problem, IMHO, is that osteopaths have never officially denounced their original quack philosophy – that all maladies are caused by misalignments of the bones blocking the flow of “energy.” In this way, they blur the distinction between themselves, and proven fellow quacks, chiropractors.

    Posted by Dennis | October 24, 2015, 8:20 pm
  10. Reblogged this on dranizkhalfan and commented:
    Let’s consider real risk factors and not unnessarily scare women!

    Posted by dranizkhalfan | October 25, 2015, 1:11 pm
  11. Jan, you have now had your 15 minutes of fame defaming the bra-cancer link. You are nothing more than a shill for the lingerie industry. And your misinformation may harm gullible women who believe your propaganda.

    Your bogus article fails to mention that the Hutchinson study did not include bra-free women, making it useless. This was mentioned in the Sadeghi article, along with the bra run fundraiser for Hutchinson which you clearly saw.

    You also failed to mention the other studies which support the bra-cancer link, such as the 2015 peer reviewed epidemiological Kenyan study. Or the China study, or the one in Venezuela or Scotland.

    But you do end your article with a sales pitch for bras. Clearly, your the medical puppet of the day. Congratulations. You have helped cover-up the major cause of breast cancer. I just hope you wear your bra 24/7, and make sure it’s tight.

    Posted by Sydney Ross Singer | November 4, 2015, 8:43 am
    • Who exactly us the lingerie industry? Do they have a lobby? Are you serious that you think Victoria’s Secret, Wacoal, and Calvin Klein have teamed up to form a group bend in intimidated researchers into silence?

      OK, let me pick myself off the floor from laughing so hard.

      Science isn;t propaganda, every medical group agrees with me so I think you are the one misinterpreting the studies.

      Oh and the study from China, you read Chinese do you?

      I read the study from Scotland, it doesn’t conclude what you think it does!!!!

      Stop scaring women. Bras are not the major source of breast cancer.

      Posted by Dr. Jen Gunter | November 5, 2015, 5:37 am
    • I’m going to comment also (in hopes of getting some of that sweet Big Lingerie money?!?!?). I am a surgeon who specializes in breast cancer treatment. I also have a master’s degree in health evaluation sciences (basically, research and public health.) I have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

      The Fred Hutch study is the only one looking at breast cancer and bra use that was designed with any sort of scientific rigor and looked at all potential confounders. Due to the rarity of finding American women who have never, ever, ever worn a bra, they focused on dose response. If bra wearing did contribute to cancer risk, you would expect that women who wore bras more often would have higher rates of cancer (as is clearly demonstrated with other known risk factors like hormone exposure, parity, length of breastfeeding, obesity, excessive alcohol use, etc). There was NO LINK.

      If you were evaluating studies based on merit and not with the goal of cherry-picking to support a conclusion you have already drawn, you would recognize that those other studies have major design flaws – the study populations as a whole are very different, and the differences between bra-wearers and non-bra-wearers include substantially more important factors than their choice of undergarments.

      Furthermore, attributing a bias to the researchers because of a gimmicky fundraiser (which could just as easily be converted to a pink boa run, or a pink tutu, or a naked breasts run (which happens in Seattle at least annually)) is a stretch worth of Cirque du Soleil.

      You know, I see breast cancer patients every day. Seattle-area patients, who are often vegetarian, organic food eating yogis. I sit with them for hours, discussing their fears, their regrets, their self-recriminations over things they could’ve. should’ve done differently. I see high-risk patients, counseling them on things they can do to reduce their risks. I’m tired of having to fix the damage of unfounded conspiracy theories propogated by which have been disproved in the scientific literature. I’m tired of people like you distracting women from the real issues. I’m tired of people who care more about selling books than truly helping women.

      Also, *you’re.

      Fred Hutch study:

      Posted by Shannon Tierney, MD, MS, FACS | November 5, 2015, 1:00 pm
      • Oh touché I love your response! You all are mentioned in a NY Times article so you’ve hit the big time! Entertaining, interesting, and medically sound advice. Thank you!

        Posted by Cathy Odom | July 30, 2017, 1:16 am
  12. Thank you for debunking rediculous lies!

    Posted by Asena | July 30, 2017, 9:59 am
  13. Love your blog. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

    Posted by Nancy Hamilton | July 31, 2017, 5:00 am


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