More than 250,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.1 Could bras be partly to blame?
I know what you’re probably thinking: Bras cause breast cancer? You have GOT to be kidding!
I wish I was. Unfortunately, there is a little-known epidemic out there and it has to do with that particular piece of apparel you thought was supposed to just hold up your cleavage. Increasing evidence suggests that your bra may also be raising your risk for cancer as well. Here’s why.
The Bras and Breast Cancer Connection
Let’s first examine the four primary ways that bras contribute to increased breast cancer risk:
#1. Your Bra May Be Harming Your Lymphatic System
The most important thing to understand about bras and breast cancer has to do with the lymphatic system.2 A woman’s lymph system is one of the main outlets for draining toxins from the body. It is also one of the main lines of defense against harmful pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, and mutant cells such as cancer cells.
Lymph nodes also act as filters for lymph fluid, which contains protein molecules, salts, immune system cells, glucose, and other substances which are carried to various parts of the body. Lymph fluid can also contain toxic material that is en route to being flushed out of the body.
In addition, lymph nodes play an important part in the immune system since they are storehouses and production factories for certain kinds of immune system cells. Especially important for cancer prevention are Natural Killer Cells. NK Cells are lymphocytes that have the ability to control tumor growth and microbial infections.3
There can be anywhere between 501 and 700 lymph nodes total in a woman’s body, depending on the person.4 There are only between 20 and 40 lymph nodes in the breast area. Yet they are crucial for the whole system.5
Approximately 85% of the total volume of lymph fluid flows between nodes in the armpits as well as underneath the breast bone area.
Lymph nodes around the breast area are broken up into two categories: auxiliary nodes, which are located under and around the armpit, and sentinel nodes. When cancer begins to spread from the breasts to the rest of the body, the auxiliary nodes are often the first place it will go.
A 1991 study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who did not wear bras had half the breast cancer risk compared to women who wore bras.6 Why is this?
The bottom line is that lymph fluid needs to flow and the entire lymphatic system works best with as little restriction as possible. As we shall see by the numerous studies mentioned below, when a woman wears a tight bra for long hours each day, over time lymph node flow may become seriously impaired. This can lead to a cascade of consequences: immune system cells do not go where they are supposed to, the breast area heats up, and toxins, such as aluminum molecules from antiperspirant use,7 become stagnantly lodged in the mammary gland area. All this creates a situation that is ripe for cancer to develop.
#2. You May Be Wearing Your Bra Too Many Hours Each Day
The number of hours a day a woman wears her bra may play a critical role in her risk for breast cancer as well. For their book, Dressed to Kill: The Link between Breast Cancer and Bras,8 researchers Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer conducted a study with over 5,000 women. They found that women who wore a bra 24 hours a day had a 3 in 4 chance of developing breast cancer. They also found that those who wore a bra less than 12 hours a day reduced that risk significantly, to one in 52.
Other reports from around the world confirm these findings. A 2016 study9 of 152 patients with breast cancer and 152 controls conducted by the University of Brasilia in Brazil found that length of bra wearing, defined as wearing a brassiere for “several hours each day,” had a significant impact on breast cancer risk. Prior reports out of China10 and Scotland11 came to similar results.
Wearing a bra for long hours may cause other uncomfortable and potentially dangerous side effects as well, some of which can also raise the risk of breast cancer. These include backaches, headaches,12 breast pain,13 nerve damage, and even IBS.14
In fact, wearing a tight bra many hours a day can cut off lymphatic flow to such a point that cysts or “fibrocystic breast disease” may develop, according to some experts. A 1999 investigation at Western General Hospital in the U.K. found that “[w]omen with breast cysts are at an increased risk of breast cancer, especially at younger ages.”15 They also found that the type of cyst did not matter; they all carry with them a higher risk for mammary gland cancer.
#3. You May Be Wearing a Tight Bra or an Underwire
All of the side effects of bra-wearing mentioned above, including breast cancer, are compounded if restriction of mammary tissues is exacerbated by wearing a bra that is too tight, and especially if a woman wears an “underwire” bra.
In the Brazilian study mentioned above, tightness of the bra played a critical role in raising breast cancer risk. In Dressed to Kill, the authors found that the longer a bra is worn, and the tighter the bra is, the higher the risk for cancer. The authors say that, in some cases, the risk of breast cancer can be 100 times higher for women who wear tight bras 24/7.
And what about that pesky underwire? It turns out that that thin wire strap that was first introduced in the early 1940s may be more of a threat to health than previously thought.
According to Energy Medicine pioneer Donna Eden,16 the underwire (whether it be actual wire or plastic), has the potential to clog and disturb energy flows in the body:
In Energy Medicine terms, the wire has the effect of clogging Neuro-lymphatic Reflex Points that are located around the breast, which inhibits energy flow,” says Eden. “This results in slow but steady harm to the lymph tissue in the breast. Energy and lymph fluid naturally move through these tissues, but this movement may get blocked due to continual exposure to the wire in a bra…Clogged energies and related physical residue can create pain and also an internal environment that invites future health problems, including cancer.”
Another factor to consider when it comes to metal underwire bras is the unique way metal may sometimes react to the human body. Dr. George Goodheart,17 called the “Father of Applied Kinesiology,” often spoke of the “Antenna Effect,” which describes the way in which metal objects on or near the body may affect health. His theories became the basis for products such as “AcuAids,” which are BB-sized metal balls used at key acupuncture points in order to increase stimulation for particular health effects.
While acupuncture/acupressure stimulation using metal may be good in small amounts, constant overstimulation over time can and often does cause problems, not only to acupressure point areas themselves but also to organ systems related to that point along Chinese meridian flows.18
In the beginning of stimulating a point, it is stimulated – often causing an increase in associated function,” states Chiropractor John D. Andre, DC, ND19 in a recent article about the subject.
Later on, this continued stimulation causes sedation of that point and a subsequent decrease in its associated function. It’s a mechanical thing. If a woman keeps the metal UnderWires on top of those reflex points, over time that WILL mess up the functioning of the associated circuits: liver, gallbladder, and stomach. Bottom Line: It will likely make her sick, slowly and quietly.”
#4. You May be Using Your Bra to Carry Your Cell Phone
Finally, another factor related to bra-wearing and absolutely connected to breast cancer is the deadly habit of using one’s bra to carry a cell phone. This issue is especially prevalent among young women. A 2013 survey claims that 40% of college-age women use their bra as a cell phone carrier; 3% keep it there at least 10 hours a day.20
The connection between cell phone use and breast cancer in general has now been unequivocally proven by science.
In 2016, the United States National Toxicology Program (NTP), a part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), completed a $25 million multi-year study on cellphone emissions.21
Between 2009 and 2015, the NIH studied cancer risk on rats exposed to various levels of cellphone radiation for approximately 9 hours a day. Interestingly, the study was originally conducted to prove the safety of cell phones. What they found instead, however, was perhaps the tightest and strongest evidence to date on the dangers of cell phone use. The rodents which were exposed to the greatest levels of radiation had the higher occurrence of glial (brain) tumors and other cancers, as well as complications with the heart.
Placing your cell phone inside your bra exposes you to unnecessary breast cancer risk, hands down. A report in the May 2012 issue of the Environmental Health Trust Newsletter22 described case reports conducted by researchers at the University of Irvine in Southern California.23 One case of multiple breast cancer tumors was in a young woman who used her bra as a cell phone carrier for years. The doctor commented that he could trace the shape of her cell phone by those tumors on her breasts!
Hormonal glands are also especially vulnerable to cellphone radiation. When you place your cellphone in your bra, it is dangerously close to the thyroid too, which is “mission control” for the production and regulation of just about every hormone in the body (not just thyroid hormones). Studies by Electromagnetic Frequency (EMF) expert and former Imperial College London lecturer Andrew Goldsworthy,24 as well as others, have shown that the thyroid gland can be adversely affected by overexposure to cellphone EMFs.
Cell phones release ongoing, high-level doses of non-ionizing radiation which can cause DNA damage. Keeping your cell in your bra means it is also close to your heart, thyroid, major lymph pathways, and breasts. And this means higher breast cancer risk for you.
What You Can Do to Prevent Breast Cancer
In a revealing article for Fast Company magazine,25 new generation bra designer and entrepreneur Bree McKeen explains that she spent a good portion of her 20s visiting doctors and chiropractors, convinced that the reason why she always felt so uncomfortable in her bra was because of her own posture issues.
When she eventually began designing her own bra – a process that took over three years – she met with dozens of women who were wearing the wrong-sized bra.
We had a woman come in that had scarring from her underwire,” McKeen told Fast Company. “She literally had scars . . . it was rubbing [her side] there for years.”
McKeen eventually threw away the conventional ways of measuring bra cups for her bra manufacturing company, Evelyn & Bobbi. She got rid of the straps completely and threw the underwire out the window.
Bras, of course, are a “loaded garment” for women. Many women wear tight-fitting bras with heavy underwire for aesthetic reasons. Many do not want to face a higher cup size as a result of weight gain. Still others just don’t know any better.
How many women out there simply assume that a bra was meant to be uncomfortable and that is just the way it is? If you are a woman reading this, you may be one of them.
Discomfort, especially because of underwire or tightness, is a sign that something is wrong which may be impacting your health. Today, there are more options than ever when looking for a bra that will “do the job” and not harm your health in the process.
#1 – Finding a comfortable, well-fitting bra is absolutely the first step in recovering your health as well as embarking on a Healthy Breast journey. I personally recommend products from BGreen, BrookThere, or Cottonique.
Here are a few other tips for practicing bra safety:
#2 – Take it off! Granted, you may not be able to go bra-less in the board meeting or sitting at your desk at work, but what about when you get home or when you are lazing around on the weekend? Whenever you kick off your shoes, take off your bra as well. Remember that studies have shown that less time in the cup means less cancer risk!
#3 – Don’t wear an underwire. If you have read this article thus far, then you now know how important this minor change can be. Whether it is plastic or metal, any piece of hard equipment that fits snugly under your breasts will cut off circulation for the lymphatic system and cause problems. As mentioned above, there are literally dozens of options for wireless brassieres which are form-fitting and stylish as well as safe.
#4 – Exercise every day. Walking, swimming (in non-chlorine and non-bromide conditioned water), jogging, dancing, stretching or any kind of exercise is great for every system in the body, including the lymphatics. Rebounding (i.e. mini-trampoline) can be especially helpful for getting the lymphatic fluid moving, for detoxification, and for building up the immune system. The U.S. Center for Disease Control26 recommends 30 minutes of moderate exercise or 20 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week for optimum health. But even if you have just a few minutes to devote to it, get moving!
#5 – Never put your cell phone in your bra. Close-proximity cell phone radiation exposure can cause cancer, plain and simple. Keep your cell phone out of your bra. Better yet, use a speaker phone instead of wireless earbuds and avoid putting the phone close to your head while talking. Finally, turn off your cell phone and all wireless devices and routers while you sleep.27
#6 – Stimulate neuro-lymphatic points under the breasts. “[P]alpating Neuro-lymphatic Reflex Points stimulates the flow of energy to the nearby lymph tissue and the release of toxin build-up,” says Energy Medicine expert Donna Eden. This involves lightly tapping, massaging, or applying gentle acupressure to the areas underneath and around the breasts. You can even incorporate tapping points below the breasts into your Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) routine.28
Dangers of Tight Bras and Underwires Have Been Known for Years
Little do most people know, the connections between bra use and breast cancer, as well as other conditions, have been studied for close to 100 years. Here are just some of the studies Singer and Grismaijer mention in their seminal book, Dressed to Kill:
»In 1931, Dr. William Mayo, founder of the Mayo Clinic, wrote an article called “Susceptibility to Cancer,” in which he disclosed his discoveries about the potential origins of breast cancer. “Cancer of the breast occurs largely among civilized women,” he wrote.
In those countries where breasts are allowed to be exposed, that is, are not compressed or irritated by clothing, it is rare.”29
»According to Singer and Grismaijer, a forward-thinking bra designer commented on his 1950 patent notes that “[e]ven in the proper breast size, most brassieres envelope or bind the breast in such a fashion that normal circulation and freedom of movement is constricted. Many cases of breast cancer have been attributed to such breast constriction as caused by improperly-fitted brassieres.”
»A 1978 article in the Lancet posited that a cause of cancer may be that women who wore heavy bras had “hotter breasts,” while women who did not wear bras had “cooler breasts.” Even though intermittent hyperthermia30 has proven to be a sound adjunct therapy for naturally healing cancer, ongoing overheating and constriction can lead to inflammation.31
»Other studies in the 1980s through 2000s have hypothesized that large breasts in tight-fitted brassieres can cause everything from tingling and nerve issues in the hands to shoulder pain and the interference with a mother’s milk production.
Various types of garments have caused pain and even disease for women throughout history. Up until the beginning of the 20th century, foot binding was the custom in China.32 Still today all over the world, high heels and stilettos are worn by stylish models and everyday women alike as a symbol of sleek grace and fashion – corns, accidents, misshapen toes, and years of foot and hip pain be darned.33 The same could be said with corsets worn by upper-class ladies for centuries.34
Armed with the latest technology (i.e. rudimentary x-ray screening), 19th century medical scientists even linked corset-wearing to fainting, digestive issues, cracked and deformed ribs, tuberculosis and pneumonia.35
That was in the past, however. Now you have the power of knowledge to back up what you may have known all along: any kind of constrictive, tight-fitting, or just plain uncomfortable article of clothing worn for long periods of time is going to come with possible negative side effects… some of them as dire as cancer.
Luckily, now you also know enough about the possible connections between bras and breast cancer to do something about it today for your health!
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in the July 2018 Insiders Newsletter.
4 Ways Your Bra May Be Increasing Breast Cancer Risk:
- Your bra may be harming your lymphatic system
- You may be wearing your bra too many hours each day
- You may be wearing a tight bra or an underwire
- You may be using your bra to carry your cell phone
Discomfort is a sign that something is wrong, which may be impacting your health.
Many cases of breast cancer have been attributed to breast constriction caused by improperly-fitted bras.