The potential link between wearing a bra and developing breast cancer has long been the subject of chain emails, water cooler chats and whispered rumors.
While most women relish the thought of flinging their brassiere at the end of the day, few of us consider doing it on a permanent basis. But is there any truth that our bra, particularly underwire models, can give us cancer?
No, say the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen and Breastcancer.org, who all agree that there are no scientifically valid studies that show wearing bras of any type causes breast cancer.
The theory-turned-internet meme first gained mainstream traction in 2005 when a husband and wife team of medical anthropologists published it in the book “Dressed to Kill.”
Their study suggested that breast cancer might be less common among women who do not wear bras than among bra wearers.
Although several studies have debunked the bra-breast cancer theory, the myth seems to have gained a foothold in the female psyche. So Lu Chen, MPH, decided to test the theory.
Chen is a researcher in the Public Health and Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health.
“One of the reasons why breast cancer may be more common in developed countries compared with developing countries is differences in bra-wearing patterns,” she said in a press release.
“Given how common bra wearing is, we thought this was an important question to address.”
Chen enlisted nearly 1,100 postmenopausal women with invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) and invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), the two most common subtypes of breast cancer from the Seattle-Puget Sound metropolitan area. She enlisted 469 women who did not have breast cancer to serve as controls.
Chen and colleagues interviewed the women on their demographics, family history, and reproductive history, all known to be possible breast cancer risk factors.
Researchers also asked each women a series of structured questions to assess her lifetime bra-wearing patterns including whether she wore a bra with an underwire, what her bra cup size and band size was, the number of hours per day and days per week she wore a bra, and whether her bra-wearing patterns had changed at different times in her life.
“Our study found no evidence that wearing a bra increases a woman’s risk for IDC or ILC breast cancer" said Chen. "The risk was similar no matter how many hours per day women wore a bra, whether they wore a bra with an underwire, or at what age they first began wearing a bra."
Some experts have hypothesized that drainage of lymph fluids in and around the breast may be hampered by wearing a bra.
However, Chen said given very limited biological evidence supporting such a link between wearing a bra and the risk for breast cancer, “our results were not surprising.”
The study is published Sept. 5, 2014 in the Journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. It was funded by the National Cancer Institute.
Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer living in San Jose, CA. When not writing for publications, she spends a questionable amount of her free time contemplating her relationship with mid-century modern design and watersports.
Bra Wearing Not Associated with Breast Cancer Risk: A Population-Based Case–Control Study. Lu Chen,Kathleen E. Malone, and Christopher I. Li
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev; Published OnlineFirst September 5, 2014; doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-0414.abstract
Bras and Breast Cancer. American Cancer Society. Accessed 4 Sept. 2014.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors. Breastcancer.org Accessed 4 Sept. 2014.
Factors that do not increase risk. Susan G. Komen. Accessed 4 Sept. 2014.
Research Finds No Association Between Wearing a Bra and Breast Cancer. AACR. Jeremy Moore.
Reviewed September 5, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith