HomeBlogMythBUSTers: Can wearing bras cause breast cancer?

MythBUSTers: Can wearing bras cause breast cancer?

Is it merely an urban legend? A controversial study by Singer and Grismaijer in 1995 made history when it was revealed that wearing bras can indeed cause breast cancer.

These are their statistical findings:

  • Women who wore bras 24 hours per day had a 3 out of 4 chance of developing breast cancer.
  • Women who wore bras more than 12 hours per day but not to bed had a 1 out of 7 risk.
  • Women who wore bras less than 12 hours per day had a 1 out of 152 risk.
  • Women who rarely or never wore bras had a 1 out of 168 chance of getting breast cancer. The overall difference between 24 hour wearing and not at all was a 125-fold difference.

Yes, wearing bras cause breast cancer

Supporters of this theory assert that bras inhibit the flow of the lymphatic system. Since the efficiency of our lymphatic circulation depends highly on movement, wearing a constrictive bra prevents normal lymphatic flow. It is akin to sitting for a long time on an airplane and experiencing swollen feet and ankles because the lymphatic circulation is vastly reduced.

Wearing constrictive underwire bras also restricts one’s breathing capacity, thus reducing the oxygen intake. This in turn encourages cystic fibrosis which may eventually lead to cancer.

If you have to wear a bra, then you have to exercise more to improve lymphatic flow. Do exercises that allow movement of the breasts like running and jumping gently so that the movement massages the breasts and encourage lymphatic flow. It will help to cleanse the breast of toxins and wastes that arise from cellular metabolism.

No, it is just a myth

Marisa Weiss, president and founder of breastcancer.org, a non-profit website, says that although the idea of having one’s breasts in cages with metal wires “impeding fluid and marinating breast tissue in toxic liquid” sounds like a reasonable explanation for cancer, it is not. She further points out that bodily fluid actually travels up and out of the armpits, not down toward the underwire.

Susan Love, president and medical director of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation in California says, “The bra myth comes from the frustration of not knowing what causes the disease, coupled with a desire that the disease should come from the outside, from something a woman can control.”

Love, also a former breast cancer surgeon as well as author of Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book, now in its fourth edition says, “You find people wanting to think about birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, fertility drugs, pesticides, bras and deodorant. The fact is – we don’t know what causes breast cancer.”

Louise Brinton, chief of the hormonal and reproductive epidemiology branch of the National Cancer Institute, has been doing research in the field for 30 years. It is her opinion that the risks of breast cancer are associated with factors such as age and when a woman had her first child, the length of breastfeeding and family history. The risk increases for women who have not had children or who have given birth after the age of 30.

Scientists also know that 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are linked to BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations but nobody can pinpoint for sure what causes these mutations.


There is not enough studies and evidence proving conclusively that wearing bras cause breast cancer. Singer and Grismaijer’s study was a sociological one, not scientific based. Dietary intake patterns and family health history of the 4,700 women in their sample group was not taken into consideration, only the number of bra-wearing hours. For those who are worried about wearing bras, this is the best advice from a doctor – All women should be measured by a professional before buying their next bra. Women should wear well-fitting bras that are the right size and shape for them. Avoid bras that are too tight which leave red marks on the body. Also, women should perform regular breast self examinations and follow up with visits to the doctor. Early detection is vital for a full recovery.

Signs of an ill-fitting bra

  • Breasts bulging at the top, sides or bottom of the bra
  • Underwire digging into your skin
  • Centre of front of bra does not lie against your chest
  • Straps always falling off your shoulders
  • Cup wrinkles
  • Bra comes away from your body when you lift your arms

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