There are many claims stating that wearing a bra for a long time causes breast cancer. What does research and science say about this?
The Gist of It
- New research published this year shows that wearing bras are not correlated to breast cancer.
- The book that popularised this idea is based on a research that is not scientifically-sound, and thus should be refuted.
- Prevent cancer by eating healthy, moving more, and lowering your weight if you are obese.
This is an age old question that pops into every girl’s mind at one time or another. I know it’s popped into mine, especially when I recall that scary article in a magazine I read when I was a tween.
The article told me that I should be wary of wearing my bra all the time, as I need to give my breasts time to breathe, otherwise I would be at a higher risk of getting breast cancer. This idea was popularised by a book published in 2005 titled “Dressed to Kill”, which basically dwells on the idea that wearing bras could be linked to breast cancer.
The authors of the book — Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer — claimed that:
- women who wore their bras 24 hours a day were 125 times more likely to have breast cancer than women who are bra-free.
- breast cancer is only a problem in cultures where women wear bras; in bra-free cultures, breast cancer is a rare event.
- bra-free women have about the same incidence of breast cancer as men.
They claim that bra-wearing inhibits your lymphatic system, which causes a build-up of fluid within your breast tissue. And because your bras constrict the flow of your lymphatic system, carcinogenic (cancer-causing) toxins accumulate in your breast tissue, which could lead to cancer in the long term.
Sounds pretty legit, right?
Science Says No, Not Really
You’ll be glad to know that there’s even a new study published this year (2014) that specifically addresses this concern.
In this new study, researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the US conducted a case-control study on 1,513 women, of which 454 had invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), 590 women had invasive lobular carcinoma (ICL) — the two most common types of breast cancer — as well as 469 which acted as a control group.
In the study, the researchers looked for differences between cases and controls through questions like:
- Age at which they started wearing a bra
- Whether they wore bras with an underwire
- Number of hours per day of bra wearing
- Number of days per week of bra wearing
- Change of patterns etc
The epidemiological study found no correlation between bra wearing (whatever the pattern and type of bra) and breast cancer.
“No aspect of bra wearing, including bra cup size, recency, average number of hours/day worn, wearing a bra with an underwire, or age first began regularly wearing a bra, was associated with risks of either IDC or ILC.”— Researchers Lu Chen, et al.
But What About the Scary Statistics in the Book?
In “Dressed to Kill”, Singer and Grismaijer looked at the bra wearing attitudes and behaviors of more than 4,700 American women from 5 major cities. According to them, about half the women questioned had had breast cancer.
Based on these findings, they concluded that:
- 3 out of 4 women who wore their bras 24 hours per day developed breast cancer
- 1 out of 7 women who wore bras more than 12 hours per day but not to bed developed cancer
- 1 out of 152 women who wore their bras less than 12 hours per day got breast cancer
- 1 out of 168 women who wore bras rarely or never acquired breast cancer
These stats certainly seem to point the finger at bras, but the medical and scientific community aren’t so supportive of the verdict, and pointed out the flaws of their research, which included:
- Lack of controlled epidemiological data correlating bra-wearing with the risk of cancer
– The authors didn’t look at well-known epidemiological risk factors for breast caner like number of full-term pregnancies, age at first pregnancy, obesity, etc.
- Lack of proof that the pressure exerted by a bra reduces the flow of lymph
- Lack of proof that lymph contains carcinogens
- Lack of proof that there are carcinogens in the human body that can induce breast cancer
- Existence of published data correlating obesity with post-menopausal breast cancer
Prevent Cancer Without Taking Off Your Bra
Now that we’ve effectively ruled out bras (underwire or not), you can strut forth wearing, or not wearing a bra (because, it’s your choice after all).
There’s no surefire way of preventing breast cancer (or any other type of cancer, for that matter), but what can you do to lower your risk? The general advice from the medical community sums up to the pointers below:
- Stop smoking
- Start eating a healthy diet filled with veggies, fruit, and lean protein
- Exercise regularly
- Lose weight (if you’re overweight)
- Limit your alcohol intake
Also check out:
- [Infographic] Are You Checking Your Breasts for Lumps the Right Way?
- Prevent Breast Cancer with These 8 Superfoods
- I Found a Lump in My Breast, What Should I Do Now?