Studies Indicate Yes!
Dr. Michelle Kmiec, Founder OHH
Every few years the topic of “Bras and Breast Cancer” reemerges, and the predictable responses are plentiful. Despite some valid studies done in the 1990’s, most “medical” websites advocate that there is no such evidence to support the claim. However, don’t be too quick to take that advice at face value. As always, there is more to every story.
There have been 2 major studies regarding Bras and Breast cancer.
One came out of Harvard in 1991, and it showed that women who didn’t wear bras, had a much lower incidence of breast cancer:
“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.”
The other well-known study comes from the book, Dressed To Kill: The Link between Breast Cancer and Bra, by Singer and Grismaijer (medical anthropologists). Though their findings are compelling, their methodology was not considered sound by the scientific community, thus is the basis of the dismissal of their claims: that wearing bras does appear to have a link with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Nonetheless, it would seem to me that despite some faults with their methodology, further study should not be ignored…and yet it has been.
When it comes to breast cancer (or any other breast disease), the first logical step that should be investigated is what, if any, affect a bra has on breast tissue. After all, though the common perception of a bra is to give support to breast tissue, aid in reducing back pain, and of course, to reduce breast pain.
However, bras are actually designed to alter the breast shape by putting pressure on the breast tissue – particularly when a wire supported bra is used. This can be easily seen by red marks, indentations, and possible bruising, which is commonly present on the skin after the bra is removed. When there is prolonged compression of the breast, and tissue restriction, it can affect blood circulation and lymphatic flow. So to simply dismiss the findings of Singer and Grismaijer as being scientifically unfounded, is in and of itself, a scientific flaw.
After all, the idea of a connection between breast compression and cancer is not much different, than the connection of man’s infertility and wearing tight briefs. Many have suggested that wearing tight briefs, can contribute to the raising of the temperature of the testes, resulting in a lower sperm count. There are many studies proving this to be true, and of course, there are also studies which seem to disprove this claim as well.
Common sense, however, suggests that confining the testes, which are meant to be at a lower temperature than the core temperature of the body, could indeed cause fertility issues. And just like the testes, breast tissue was never meant to be confined and compressed – especially for long periods of time.
Confining these areas in men and women is, in actuality, only new societal accepted phenomena.
Dr. Michael Schacter, M.D. wrote in his article, The Prevention and Complementary Treatment of breast Cancer:
“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.”
In fact lymphedema, an accumulation of fluid due to inadequate lymphatic drainage is common among women who have had a mastectomy. These women are recommended to limit the amount of time they wear a bra. Perhaps the same recommendation should be for all women, and not just for women who unfortunately have current breast health issues.
So what about wearing bras to help with comfort? And does wearing a bra help keep breast firmer?
Well, a 15 year study done in France found that the opposite is actually true.
Professor Jean-Denis Rouillon of Besançon CHU found in a 15-year study of 330 women that:
“Medically, physiologically and anatomically” breasts gained no benefit from their weight being supported in a bra. Breasts would gain more tone and support themselves if no bra was used.
Using a bra meant “supporting tissues will not grow and even they will wither and the breast will gradually degrade”.
The study found that women who did not wear a bra actually had firmer breasts, reduced stretch marks and most surprisingly, bras did little to help eliminate back pain.
It may be important to note that this study included only younger women 18 to 35 years old. It has been suggested that older women, who have worn bras their entire life, may cause problems if they eliminated wearing a bra. However, that was not the case in the findings of Singer and Grismaijer.
Fibrocystic breast disease is another concern and is actually more of a condition, rather than a disease. It is characterized by unusual “lumpiness”, and often, painful breasts. Though recognized as a benign condition, and not associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer, an interesting finding of Singer and Grismaijer in their groundbreaking study was, when women with this condition limited the amount of time they wore their bra, their condition improved significantly.
So the question remains, ‘To wear a bra or not wear a bra?’
I believe the answer to this question, at this time, is a personal one. Though there appears to be convincing evidence that eliminating, or reducing the amount of time wearing a bra, could, in fact, be beneficial to breast health, thus overall health.
However, in many ways, societal beliefs of what’s “acceptable” are the hardest concepts to change. After all, it took a few hundred years for people to accept that the earth actually revolved around the sun, and not the other way around… let alone a social norm.
I encourage you to read all the evidence, as well as, compelling anecdotal stories, and then come to your own conclusion as to whether to wear a bra are not. But one thing is for sure, and I think everyone can agree on this, limiting the amount of time wearing a bra is definitely a good idea!
Special note: This article speaks in generalizations, and is in no way intended to discriminate against men. There are many men, who have a condition known as gynecomastia (enlarged breast tissue in males), as well as, men who are susceptible to breast cancer.