Breast Cancer and Bras: Recent Research Raises an Alarm Bell

Four years ago, one large study found a compelling connection. In an article entitled Wearing a Tight Bra for Many Hours a Day is Associated with Increased Risk of Breast Cancer [Journal of Oncology Research and Treatment, 2016. 1:1, Vol 1(1)], a group of six authors concluded that “This study demonstrated a correlation between wearing a tight bra for several hours a day and an increased risk of developing breast cancer” due in part to constriction on the lymph nodes. The authors also quoted another study (Hsieh et al, 1991) that “demonstrated that premenopausal women who did not wear a bra had half the risk of developing breast cancer compared with bra wearers.” Yet overall, studies of bra-wearing leading to cancer “have been inconclusive.”

This journal publication of 2016 is one of the more recent, compelling, and so far unchallenged, discoveries of a relationship. Mentioned were the more “well known” factors implicated in breast cancer: early menarche, late menopause, the use of hormone replacement therapy, alcoholism, obesity, smoking, and genetic mutations. The ‘bra and cancer relationship’ has thus returned from one of its original beginnings, the book Dressed to Kill , 1995, by S.R. Singer and S. Grismaijer (Avery Publishing, New York). These two particular authors had claimed:

“We have developed a new theory about breast cancer and have tested that theory by conducting original research on thousands of women (4,730 from San Francisco, Denver, Phoenix, Dallas and New York) and we feel confident that we have discovered something tremendously important. We believe we have found a trigger for breast cancer. It is a trigger that is pulled by women themselves – but the gun is loaded by society.”

Of course, since then, bra manufacturers, fashion designers and some researchers have poo-pooed this idea, only to be facing now new evidence. In discussing primarily how bras block or retard the flow of the lymphatic system of the body, the authors also addressed the effects of culture in controlling what women wear and how they wear it. Their research led them to conclude that not only age, genetics, toxin intake, diet and hormone factors, but especially social factors, contribute to higher breast cancer rates. For example, in studying cultures in which bras are traditionally not worn (e.g., Asia, Mexico, Japan, South America, Egypt) breast cancer rates are four-fold lower than cultures in which bras are customarily worn, i.e., most Western or “Westernizing” cultures. Further, since public nudity is not permitted yet in most societies, pretend nudity is acceptable, namely that an ad seen on television or the internet today stresses that a bra makes a woman look ‘natural, not naked’. Yet the ‘braless look’ from the ’60s Flower Children, evoled to be included in the Women’s Movement, and “was put into high gear by movies and television.” So underwear manufacturers countered this movemnt with ads and propaganda attacking this freedom, and hitting hard with the claim that women ‘needed to support’ their breasts. When this didn’t work particularly well, the industry took another direction, making underwear that looked as though the wearer had nothing on at all” (pretend nudity). [See The Naked Child: Growing Up without Shame, by D.C. Smith and Dr. W. Sparks, 1986. Elysium Press].

As I had learned (and thereafter personally corrected) from a Mayo Clinic specialist in the ’70s, how prolonged wearing of tight underwear and bluejeans for men lowered sperm counts, and that prolonged tight clothing generally was not a good idea for anyone, I tend to lean towards these latest findings about women and bras. Many lessons can be learned also from the 35 million declared nudists/naturists around the world about why clothing shouldn’t be worn (weather permitting) at all. But that’s another, much larger, topic.

Terry L. Hill, PhD, Medical Sociologist

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