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bra, breast health, cancer

The one where I stand accused of being a shill for big lingerie

After more than four years of blogging it has come to pass that a comment is so outrageous that it warrants its own little post. The comment isn’t about abortion or contraception or shirtgate or any of the seemingly 51585VGN44L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_“controversial” things that I write about it. No, it is about bras. It is in response to my posting about GOOP scaring women about bras and cancer for Halloween.

I stand accused of being a shill for big lingerie.

The author of the comment is Sydney Singer, who wrote Dressed to Kill. the book that tells women bras cause cancer. A book that Paltrow’s medical expert, Dr. Sadeghi, used as a reference. Singer has posted several comments on my blog (he does so every time I write about bras), so I can only assume he wants the attention.

This is what Singer has to say and here is my reply:

Screen shot 2015-11-05 at 5.51.00 AM
Dear Mr. Singer,

First  of all it’s Jen, not Jan.

I have never received money (or bras) from anyone for writing a post, but throwing around attacks instead of facts is typically a sign of a weak argument. Who exactly is Big Lingerie? Is this a group of bra executives who pay off researchers? What currency do they use (money or high-end bras?). Where is their headquarters? Are the Victoria’s Secret Angels their enforcers?

Bra mafias aside, let’s look at the studies you reference. The Hutchinson study had too few women who didn’t wear bras to draw a statistically meaningful conclusion about that group, but they did look at hours of day a bra is worn, whether there was an underwire, and the age bra wearing started. If bras caused breast cancer the number of hours of wear and age of wearing should show some association because more exposure would be worse than less exposure. It did not.

The Chinese study mentioned in GOOP and so I assume the one you referenced is in Chinese. I’m happy to look at a translated version, so please post it in the comments below. However, the English abstract doesn’t mention breast size or obesity as risk factors and instead uses variables such as “bad life incidence,” so I am concerned about its robustness to show a link between bras and breast cancer.

The Scottish study referenced by Paltrow’s expert, so the one I assume you mean, didn’t ask women about bra sizes or bra wearing. It is a retrospective chart review and the data was location of tumor, menopausal status etc. there was no mention of bra wearing at all that I could find. If there is another Scottish study, please provide a link.

What Venezuela study do you mean? This one mentioned in GOOP that is in Spanish? It is a descriptive, non-experimental, transactional study of 73 patients that has no control for recall bias. I don’t need it translated, it can’t prove that bras are connected with breast cancer.

The study from Kenya doesn’t mention bra size or obesity in the first 2 pages (what is available online for free, but that does include demographics), so that’s a concern as they are major confounders. Also, how did the authors control for recall bias?

As for ending my post with a sales pitch? This is what I said.

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.

I’m really not sure how anyone could mistake that as a sales pitch for bras or anything for that matter.

There are no studies to support your claims. If lymphatic obstruction (not that bras obstruct lymph flow, but I’m trying to work with your hypothesis) caused breast cancer women who have axillary lymph nodes dissected for other cancers, such as melanoma, would have a higher incidence of breast cancer on the affected side. They don’t. That pretty much ends the lymph theory right there.

I’m not worried that my bras (which are well-fitted so not tight, but that’s for comfort not cancer prevention) will cause cancer, but it is always a nice touch to end your comment wishing that someone gets cancer.

Jen Gunter MD, FRCS(C), FACOG, DABPM, ABPMR (pain medicine)

Discussion

19 thoughts on “The one where I stand accused of being a shill for big lingerie

  1. But but, who’s going to buy that book if you debunk everything that’s in it?!?

    Posted by sweetsound | November 5, 2015, 7:23 am
  2. From what I read on Wikipaedia and Amazon ( the book written and published by Mr Singer and his wife ) is that they are two grifters .
    Oh and Mr Singer , it is not your but you’re ( 4th sentence from the end .

    Posted by Jim | November 5, 2015, 7:37 am
    • They are, but they’re also true believers. Singer and his wife live on the Big Island of Hawaii, where I do, and they promote all kinds of quackery even when it doesn’t benefit them financially. Unfortunately the result is that they’ve contributed to a tremendous amount of environmental damage by promoting the idea that invasive species are all just fine. So when coqui frogs (with a 100-decibel call and densities of 10,000 per acre) arrived about 10 years ago, they helped block efforts to eradicate them and even actively spread them around the island, the the result that they’re now all over. It’s impossible to watch TV or have a conversation with the windows open now. They call their piece of land a “coqui sanctuary”.

      Also, Singer has been fighting to block the release of a biocontrol for one of the worst weeds in the state for years, spouting all kinds of nonsense about how this was part of scientists’ evil agenda to destroy everyone’s free food (this is a tree that produces edible, but small and usually sour fruit, and it’s virtually impossible to control by hand or mechanical means). It was finally released a couple of years ago (unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be working very well so far), but his efforts probably delayed it by three to five years.

      Posted by midnightrambler956 | November 7, 2015, 1:16 pm
    • Yep, just what I was going to point out JIm. I wonder if all this posturing is due to some psychological or psychiatric condition? I was just reading about Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy for a literature search yesterday and idly wondering if this quackery is another form of it ….

      Posted by Catherine Voutier | November 10, 2015, 3:51 pm
  3. Go Dr Jen!! The real environmental threats- obesity, use of MHT, alcohol and physical inactivity get largely ignored while we bicker back and forth about bras and cell phones. Focus people!

    Posted by cmrnga | November 5, 2015, 7:50 am
  4. Great post! I’m going to get all nerdy-epidemiologist on you. I don’t think women who wear bras can be compared adequately to women who don’t wear bras in standard epidemiologic studies. Women who do and do not wear bras are systematically different in many ways (likelihood of obesity, socioeconomic status, rural/urban life, likelihood of seeing a medical professional for diagnosis, etc), especially in North America and likely in Africa as well (where I imagine those who regularly wear bras are more prone to the “Western lifestyle” and associated risks). Therefore there is systematic bias in the comparison of those two group. This is a similar issue facing comparisons between vaccinated and unvaccinated children. Unless you had a well-designed prospective study controlling for these biases, your conclusions would be faulty. Oh, and association does not equal causation!

    Posted by Eric Benchimol (@ericbenchimol) | November 5, 2015, 8:06 am
  5. When I first saw the title I thought what is this big lingerie? A post on granny panties?

    This is amazing and even better than granny panties:)

    Posted by k8michele | November 5, 2015, 8:29 am
  6. If there’s one thing I despise, it’s a quack. Good job on debunking the money-grubbing moron. You’ve gained a new reader.
    @nicole473

    Posted by nicole | November 5, 2015, 9:33 am
  7. Although I laughed at this, the depressing thing is the internet is increasingly becoming the ‘ignorance superhighway.’ Conspiracy loons and ‘natural health’ nuts abound and anybody who challenges them is always labelled a ‘shill’. I sometimes worry that the voices of science and reason will be drowned by a cacophony of the delusional and the misinformed.

    Posted by Jason | November 5, 2015, 2:40 pm
  8. First AND foremost “Dressed to Kill” was written over 20 years ago — a lot, and I mean a lot has happened in that time, especially speaking medically and scientifically.

    The Cancer Council has the following to say:

    “Wearing a bra does not cause breast cancer.

    A longstanding myth argues that bras cause breast cancer by obstructing the breast’s lymph system, causing the accumulation of toxins inside the breast leading to breast cancer. The myth was started by a 1995 book titled ‘Dressed to Kill’ based on the authors’ observations (not results of scientific studies) that women in western cultures who wore bras had a higer rate of breast cancer than women in traditional cultures who rarely wore bras.

    This myth is based on a number of illogical assumptions. Problems with the theory include:

    The authors’ observations did not take into account differences between these cultures in known risk factors for breast cancer, such as diet, weight, exercise, the age at which menstruation starts, pregnancies, and breast feeding.
    The suggested mechanism is inconsistent with scientific concepts of breast physiology and pathology. The breast lymph system does not drain into the main part of the breast. The lymph system drains out of the breast into the underarm lymph nodes; and bras do not prevent the circulation of blood and lymph from the breast.

    There are no well-designed research studies that demonstrate that wearing a bra causes breast cancer. The single epidemiological study that investigated the possible link between bra use and breast cancer suggested that breast cancer might be less common among women who do not wear bras. This result was not statistically significant and the researchers note that the connection is most likely due to indirect factors, such as women who are obese (a known risk factor for breast cancer) and have large breasts are less likely to go braless. There are no epidemiological studies published in scientific journals that suggest that bras directly contribute to breast cancer risk.”

    Read more at http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/85987/cancer-information/general-information-cancer-information/cancer-questions-myths/clothing-cosmetics-tattoos/wearing-a-bra-does-not-cause-breast-cancer/#RqmyhgG5dDAgpsQC.99

    Posted by elizabetcetera | November 5, 2015, 10:45 pm
  9. BOOM! Excellent take-down, Dr. Gunter.

    Posted by ChariD | November 6, 2015, 6:02 am
  10. I would totally “shill” (if by “shill” you mean “post actual facts”) for the lingerie industry if it meant free bras. Totally. The pretty lacy kind. Just sayin’.

    Posted by Kathy | November 10, 2015, 10:43 pm
    • Kathy – I’m with you. My well-fitting bras (and I agree with Jen on this —having someone who really knows how to fit a bra is essential) cost over $50. They’re pretty and the do what a bra should do.
      And considering that I started wearing underwire bras when I was 13, have worn them all my life—I don’t have cancer.
      My mom had two mastectomies (long enough ago that they didn’t do lumpectomies), two of her sisters and her mother did also. That family history might well have a bit more to do with my developing breast cancer.
      But — I’m not giving up my pretty, well-fitting and supportive bras for no one, no how!!!

      (Cancer from wearing a bra….really? That’s right up there with the decoration – or lack of – on coffee cups. Or maybe the ‘send me your bank information so I can deposit $5 million dollars to you! (LOL)

      Jen – thanks, as always. The voice of reason and evidence!!!

      Posted by Melissa Barthold | November 11, 2015, 1:49 pm

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