For years, Camila has been a fan of underwire bras. In fact, it's what she prefers to wear, choosing them over sports bras, push-ups and demi-cups. She likes the way the semi-circular wires sewn into the underside of the cups lift and separate her breasts. But this changed the day her mom forwarded an email that included an excerpt of the book "Dressed to Kill," one that painted a dangerous picture of her beloved underwire bras.
Intrigued, Camila downloaded the book and read every word, only to discover the authors claimed that women who wore underwire bras for 12 or more hours a day were more at risk for developing breast cancer than women who didn't bind their breasts at all. Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer, the husband and wife team of medical anthropologists who wrote the book, posit that underwire bras don't allow lymphatic fluid to drain properly from breast tissue. And, with all this toxin-rich fluid trapped in breast tissue, they claim cancer can't be far behind [source: Kramer].
It seems plausible. The problem, according to the National Center for Health Research and associations like the American Cancer Society, is that the underwire bra/cancer connection is just not true. The idea that blocked lymphatic vessels allow toxins to accumulate in the breasts is not consistent with breast physiology and pathology. In addition, a 2014 study published in "Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention" tracked 1,500 postmenopausal women who reported they'd worn bras for their entire adult lives. The results? There was no evidence that wearing a bra -- any kind of bra -- increased the women's risk of breast cancer [source: Chen et al.].
In fact, there aren't any scientifically valid studies that link wearing a bra to an increase in breast cancer, reports studies performed by the American Cancer Society. One study looked at whether breast cancer was more common in women who wore bras, as opposed to women who didn't wear bras. Both groups of women were found to have similar breast cancer risks.
Turns out, the study conducted by the authors of "Dressed to Kill" didn't adhere to the industry's accepted epidemiological research standards. It also didn't take other variables into account, such as a family history of breast cancer [source: American Cancer Society]. The study has had a lasting impact, however, thanks to its second life as fodder for Internet rumors.
- American Cancer Society. "Bras and Breast Cancer." Aug. 26, 2014. (July 25, 2015) http://www.cancer.org/aboutus/howwehelpyou/bras-and-breast-cancer
- Chen, Lu, et al. "Bra Wearing Not Associated with Breast Cancer Risk: A Population-Based Case–Control Study." Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. Sept. 5, 2014. (March 4, 2015) http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2014/08/27/1055-9965.EPI-14-0414.abstract
- Kramer, S.M. "Fact or Fiction? Underwire Bras Cause Cancer." Scientific American. April 19, 2007. (Jan. 25, 2015) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-underwire-bras-cause-cancer/
- Painter, Kim. "Myth Busted: No Link Between Bras and Breasts." USA Today. Sept. 5, 2014. (Jan. 25, 2015) http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/09/04/bras-breast-cancer-myth/15074569/