Bras cause breast cancer? Apparently not, study says


Uplifting news for the girls: Regularly wearing a brassiere does not increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer after menopause, a new study finds.

Not found in the latest research: Compared with their bra-wearing sisters, aging women who avoid such structural support in hopes of reducing their breast cancer risk will experience significantly greater stretching and sagging of the mammaries and more pronounced disappearance of the territory between waist and bust as they age.

But I digress.

The new study, published this week in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, lifts the veil on a speculated link between bras and breast cancer, and separates myth from reality: “lay media,” the study authors write, have suggested that by impairing the free flow of lymphatic fluids, bras impede the removal of waste and toxin removal, that perennial bugaboo of health faddists and medical conspiracy theorists.


The speculated result of such a toxic buildup would be higher rates of breast cancer among women with a lifelong habit of sequestering their breast tissue in supportive underwear.

But in a study that compared the bra-wearing habits of 469 healthy post-menopausal women with those of more than 1,000 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, study authors found that “no aspect of bra-wearing” was positively linked to breast-cancer occurrence: not cup-size, not preference for soft-cup vs. underwire, not the age at which bra-wearing was initiated or the duration of daily bra-wearing.

“Given how common bra-wearing is,” said the study’s lead author, epidemiology doctoral student Lu Chen, “we thought this was an important question to address.”

The study, conducted by Chen and fellow public health experts at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, was the first to apply a “rigorous epidemiological study design” to the feared bra-cancer connection. It should provide “reassurance” to women, the authors concluded, that their decision to support their breasts will not expose them to a greater risk of malignancy and treatment-related loss.

For those who cling to their suspicions, one methodological shortcoming of the current study might be noted: bra-wearing was “ubiquitous” among the women studied, so researchers were unable to compare the breast cancer rates of women who never wore bras with those of women who always wore them. Instead, in interviewing subjects about their bra-wearing habits, researchers focused more on marginal variations of bra-wearing patterns--none of which mattered.

We do not make this stuff up, dear reader: The authors were prompted to undertake their study not just by “lay media” concerns, but by a 1991 European study, which reported that among premenopausal women who wore bras, rates of breast cancer were twice as high as those among younger women who did not.


That study, concluded the authors, suffered from serious methodological flaws.