Breast Cancer and Bras – Is It Time to Ditch Your Bra?

Breast Cancer and Bras - Is It Time to Ditch Your Bra?
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Most women wear a bra. Some wear it to support their breasts, others to look more feminine and sexy. Also, in the West it’s the social norm – it seems there is nothing worse than seeing an outline of a nipple, so breasts need to be displayed in a socially acceptable way. The discomfort bras can cause doesn’t interest society that much. Many women, and some of my friends included, can’t wait to undo their bras and feel free again. So when I first read that not wearing a bra can actually be beneficial for your health and told them about it, they welcomed the news with enthusiasm. However, it soon became apparent that things were not as clear cut as it first seemed. Two camps emerged: one linking tight bras with breast cancer, and the other rejecting this claim as utter nonsense not worth thinking about.

To wear, or not to wear, that is the question. The argument goes as follows:

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The anti-bra camp’s main argument is that a tight-fitting bra can cut off your lymph circulation. This prevents the toxins from being drained to the lymph nodes. In this way, toxic chemicals – for example, aluminum from antiperspirants – get trapped in your breasts and can contribute to the development of breast cancer. Dr. Mercola, one of the supporters of this theory, explains that under-wire bras are the worst. These bras have a metal wire coated in plastic, which is constantly stimulating and triggering tissue under the bra. There are two important neuro-lymphatic reflex points beneath your breasts – one corresponding to your liver and gallbladder, and one leading to your stomach. If these points get constantly stimulated, they eventually stop responding to stimulation and become desensitized. This greatly disturbs the flow in the circuits leading to the liver, gallbladder and stomach. Bras can also contribute to the formation of benign lumps. If there is on-going pressure, the tissue responds with an inflammation. A recurrent inflammation can cause scaring and duct obstruction, and lead to the formation of non-malignant lumps.

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The pro-bra camp responds to these claims with a counter-argument. They claim that bras – even compression bras – can’t disturb the circulation of blood and lymph. American Cancer Society says that the description provided by the anti-bra supporters is inconsistent with scientific concepts of breast physiology and pathology. The Cancer Research UK joins in with an argument that in order to affect your lymphatic system, you would need to wear an unbearably tight and painful bra. What’s more, applying pressure to an area of the body does not make normal cells become cancerous. The pro-bra camp rests its case.

The anti-bra camp hits back and cites a book called Dressed to Kill. Its authors, Sydney Singer and Soma Grismaijer, conducted a study of over 4,000 women, and found that women who do not wear bras have a much lower risk of breast cancer. The risk increases if you wear a bra for long periods of time, for example 24 hours a day. According to their study, the link between wearing a bra and cancer is three times greater than the link between smoking and cancer!

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­- The pro-bra camp objects that the book was written by a biologist/anthropologist and an optician, and is based on observations only. No clinical studies were conducted to support their research, and the authors didn’t consider other differences between people included in the research, such as diet, exercise, stress and life style. Also, women who tend to not wear a bra, usually have smaller breasts and are more petit, which carries a smaller risk for breast cancer in the first place. Your risk of cancer is increased if you have extra body weight or have more than the average amount of breast tissue. The American Cancer Society concludes: We do not know of any epidemiologic studies published in scientific journals that suggest bras directly contribute to breast cancer risk. The Canadian Cancer Society is also still waiting on a well-designed, peer-reviewed study done on the subject of wearing bras.

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The anti-bra group admits that there is a lack of controlled-studies, but they found one study, published in 1991 in the European Journal of Cancer. That study claimed that pre-menopausal women who did not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users. Also, there has been a Japanese study, which found that wearing a bra lowers your levels of melatonin. The hormone melatonin is anti-cancerous, and there is a link between the hormone and breast cancer prevention.

What both groups agree on is that you should wear a properly fitted bra. It’s the ill-fitted bra that can cause pain and discomfort. Also, some women can be allergic to the metal in the wired bras. If this is the case, it’s best to replace the metal wire with a plastic one, or opt for a wireless bra all together. Wearing bras can be uncomfortable for women with fibrocystic breast and pregnant women. Special care should apply then, so you feel comfortable. In general, large breasts can cause muscle tension, back pain and headache. So getting a bra that is the right size for you is of paramount importance.

One thing is certain, breast cancer pre-dates bras. It is has been known since the ancient times, and bras only emerged in the late 19th century. So of course there are other factors to consider. Nobody argues that. A proper nutrition, a healthy weight and regular exercise are all very important. Increase in estrogen levels also plays an important part, so watch your medication, food and drink. And sometimes there are genetic and other unexplained factors that we have little control over.

So hearing the arguments of both sides, will you wear a bra? It definitely feels liberating to be without one – although women with fuller breasts might disagree. And wearing a bra is not a necessity. But will not wearing it help prevent cancer? Well, that question seems to remain unanswered. If nothing else, I’m getting my next bra professionally fitted.

Read my other related articles:

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11 Responses to Breast Cancer and Bras – Is It Time to Ditch Your Bra?

  1. kolawole bolanle oluwakemi says:

    Love health talk

  2. Sydney Ross Singer says:

    Hi. Sydney Ross Singer here, medical anthropologist breast cancer researcher referenced in the article above. Glad to see this information is getting out, despite industry resistance. FYI, there are other studies that support the bra-cancer link that this article did not mention.

    STUDIES THAT SUPPORT THE BRA/CANCER LINK:

    1991 Harvard study (CC Hsieh, D Trichopoulos (1991). Breast size, handedness and breast cancer risk. European Journal of Cancer and Clinical Oncology 27(2):131-135.). This study found that, “Premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users…”

    1991-93 U.S. Bra and Breast Cancer Study by Singer and Grismaijer, published in Dressed To Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras (Avery/Penguin Putnam, 1995; ISCD Press, 2005). Found that 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.

    Singer and Grismaijer did a follow-up study in Fiji, published in Get It Off! (ISCD Press, 2000). Found 24 case histories of breast cancer in a culture where half the women are bra-free. The women getting breast cancer were all wearing bras. Given women with the same genetics and diet and living in the same village, the ones getting breast disease were the ones wearing bras for work.

    A 2009 Chinese study (Zhang AQ, Xia JH, Wang Q, Li WP, Xu J, Chen ZY, Yang JM (2009). [Risk factors of breast cancer in women in Guangdong and the countermeasures]. In Chinese. Nan Fang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao. 2009 Jul;29(7):1451-3.) found that NOT sleeping in a bra was protective against breast cancer, lowering the risk 60%.

    A 2011 a study was published, in Spanish, confirming that bras are causing breast disease and cancer. http://www.portalesmedicos.com/publicaciones/articles/3691/1/Patologias-mamarias-generadas-por-el-uso-sostenido-y-seleccion-incorrecta-del-brassier-en-pacientes-que-acuden-a-la-consulta-de-mastologia- It found that underwired and push-up bras are the most harmful, but any bra that leaves red marks or indentations may cause disease.

    A recent Scottish study implicated tight bras and deodorants and anti-perspirants in the increased incidence of breast cancer in the upper outer quadrant of the breast. http://www.scotsman.com/news/health/bras-linked-to-rise-in-breast-cancer-1-3422526

    STUDIES THAT REFUTE THE BRA/CANCER LINK:

    none

    For more information, including about our call for a boycott of Komen and American Cancer Society for dismissing this information, see my website KillerCulture dot com.

  3. Pam says:

    Thank you for all your research! I met a woman in the eighties who told me her daughter, as a long time Registered Nurse had seen so many cases where women wearing tight bras, especially with underwire seemed to be consistent with the same women that ended up with breast cancer that she stopped wearing underwire bras. It is just too bad it took more than thirty years to hit mainstream media sources.

  4. Sharon Gauvey says:

    I’ve been recently diagnosed with benign breast tumors. I have to have them checked every six months. Also I have some large painful cyst. I am in the peri menopause / menopause stage of my life. As I got older things started to fall and I started wearing under wire bra’s, bra’s that push up. I also know that I started having discomfort then at the sides of my breast and one side in particular, which happens to be the side I have the issue with. I have been wearing the Bali Sports bra’s and they are very comfortable. I can wear them for hours and they help with the pain because I don’t jiggle ( the cyst hurt when I do ) So with the support they give me they still do not hurt me.The pain had got so bad for me that I could not wear a bra all day. I believe my problems were caused by wearing tight bra’s with wires. I remember sitting at a table having a meal and my Bra’s feeling to tight while I was trying to eat. I have gone so far as to un hook it under my shirt. And before anyone ask or comments NO! it’s not because I am a large women. I wear a 36 C and I am not obese at all.

  5. MiniMe53 says:

    Someone would have to PAY ME to wear an underwire bra:-) Until then, no thanks….And lucky me, I can get away (most of the time) not wearing one (if I so choose):-)

  6. Dawn says:

    I know for me going without a bra is more comfortable in most cases. I wear a g/h cup size and definitely have more back pain with extended bra wearing. At my size I do wear a bra in public or I feel less than decent. Also, when it is very hot, if I don’t wear a bra, the skin underneath can become chaffed.

  7. Sydney Ross Singer says:

    Hi,

    I like your article on bras and breast cancer.
    I am the medical anthropologist mentioned in your article, and co-author of Dressed To Kill.

    Could you possibly include a link to one of my articles calling for a boycott of the Susan G. Komen Foundation and American Cancer Society for their dismissal of this information and refusal to warn women about this? That would be great.

    http://www.killerculture.com/breast-cancer-researchers-call-for-boycott-of-komen-foundation-and-american-cancer-society/

    Thank you for your help.

    Regards,
    Sydney Ross Singer
    Medical Anthropologist
    Director, Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease
    P.O. Box 1880
    Pahoa, Hawaii 96778
    808-935-5563
    http://www.KillerCulture.com

  8. Doris Sands says:

    My comment on this is don’t wear one. After my DX with breast cancer its hard for me to be comfortable in one. I really believe that the wires are a big issue.
    When I was growing up there were none of those wires in a bra.
    I don’t think we need them either. I don’t wear one at all unless there are no wires.
    I take them all out and don’t wear it unless its necessary.. I prefer bikini tops instead.

  9. Connie says:

    I have never liked an underwire. I used one many years ago and avoid them like the plague ever since. I have large breasts and the wire dug into my sides, often leaving a bruise or taking off a layer of skin. Never again will I buy such a torture device!
    My problem now is finding a bra with decent straps.

  10. Becks says:

    I really dislike wearing bras…. I often have upper and middle back pain and find that putting on a bra can trigger it. I really wish we lived in a society which didn’t have such silly ‘norms’ and could just concentrate on what’s comfortable and healthy

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