This amazing guest post was written by Holly Bertone, PMP, and CEO of Pink Fortitude! You can check out their website here!
Bras. Brassieres. We buy them to hold the girls in place, look more feminine, give us shape, and strike the perfect balance of showing off the goods while keeping certain parts in modesty. You’ve heard the rumor about how wearing a bra causes breast cancer. The truth is revealed right here, with scientific studies to back it up.
The Evolution of the Bra
Bras have been around since ancient Greek times, and corsets became all the rage in the 16th century. During WWI, when metal was in short supply, corsets were quickly replaced by the first modern bra, which was patented by Caresse Crosby in 1914.
Since then, the simple bra has created a billion dollar industry and they come in all sizes, shapes, and forms.
Dressing to Kill
In 1995, Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer published Dressed to Kill, which remains controversial over 20 years later. Their research outlined how wearing a bra may be a primary cause of breast cancer due to how constrictive it is, and also because wearing a bra inhibits proper lymphatic circulation. As a result, this causes the buildup of fluid in the breast tissue.
Singer and Grismaijer examined nearly 5,000 women in five major US cities, half of whom had breast cancer. Their results were revolutionary. Women who wore bras a full 24 hours a day had a 3 out of 4 chance of developing breast cancer. Women who wore bras more than 12 hours a day but not to bed had a 1 out of 7 risks. Women who rarely or never wore bras had a 1 out of 168 chance of getting breast cancer.
This study did not take into consideration factors such as smoking, diet, and other health and risk factors. Over 20 years later, the research is still being questioned, is still controversial and is still without closure.
To Bra or Not to Bra?
According to The American Cancer Society, the Singer/Grismaijer study was debunked because it was not conducted according to the standard principles of research.
A study conducted in 1991 by Hsieh and Trichopoulos found that premenopausal women who did not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer as compared to premenopausal women who wore bras. This correlation may not be causal though as women who are thinner may have smaller breasts and not wear a bra (as much), and/or that larger women had an increased risk of breast cancer due to their weight/obesity as a risk factor.
A 2014 study by Chen, Malone, and Li looked at 1,000 postmenopausal women with breast cancer to determine the danger of wearing a bra. They found that neither cup size, underwires, nor hours spent wearing a bra contributed to the risk of breast cancer.
Some of the flaws from the Chen et al. study included studying only postmenopausal women and not taking into consideration a control or baseline group. If you think about it, this study actually confirms that if a woman wears a bra for 40 years, there is a greater chance that she will get breast cancer. But is that due to the bra or other unrelated factors?
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Wearing a bra is suitable for vanity purposes, but does it really provide all of the support it claims to? In 2013, a French study of 330 women, conducted by Professor Jean-Denis Rouillon, determined that wearing a bra did nothing to help support the chest, reduce back pain, or prevent breast sagging. The research found that “not wearing a bra will lead to increased collagen production and elasticity, which improves lift in a developing breast.”
Scientific Links to Breast Cancer
Since the 1995 groundbreaking book, there have been several studies looking at the link between wearing a bra and breast cancer. There are several factors to take into consideration including lymphatic drainage, exposure to formaldehyde, and exposure to electromagnetic frequencies.
A bra is designed to achieve the shape of the breast. It applies constant pressure to the breast tissue, which impairs circulation in the lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system is a part of the immune system, and its job is to remove toxins by flushing out the lymph fluid.
According to Michael Schacter, M.D., “Over 85 percent of the lymph fluid flowing from the breast drains to the armpit lymph nodes. Most of the rest drains to the nodes along the breast bone. Bras and other external tight clothing can impede flow. The nature of the bra, the tightness, and the length of time worn, will all influence the degree of blockage of lymphatic drainage. Thus, wearing a bra might contribute to the development of breast cancer as a result of cutting off lymphatic drainage, so that toxic chemicals are trapped in the breast.”
Exposure to Formaldehyde
In a lawsuit filed against bra royalty Victoria’s Secret, laboratory tests found that their bras contained the chemical formaldehyde, which is used to make fabrics crease-resistant.
Formaldehyde is considered a probable carcinogen, has been shown to cause cancer in animals, and may cause cancer in humans.
Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields
If you wear metal underwire bras, you’re exposing yourself to an even greater level of hazard, as the wire can form an antenna attracting electromagnetic fields (EMF), which can also increase your risk of breast cancer.
This in and of itself shouldn’t be a great concern, but how many women store their cell phones in their bra straps? The EMF exposure, especially in connection with underwire bras, increases the chance of cell phone radiation to the breast tissue.
There are still many unanswered questions in a sea of controversy. Even Gwyneth Paltrow came under fire for publishing an article about the link between underwire bras and breast cancer on her lifestyle blog Goop.
What does all of this mean for you?
For me personally, I practice moderation. I lost 1/3 of my right breast to a lumpectomy, and when I am out in public, I wear a push-up and padded bra. When I am home, I never wear a bra.
If you have concerns but don’t want to completely say goodbye to your bras, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. This includes not wearing a bra while in the privacy of your home, and especially not to bed, and making sure your bras are loose-fitting, do not have an underwire, and are made of breathable cotton.
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