Regularly wearing a brassiere does not increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer after menopause, a new study finds.
The new study done at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and published this week in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, lifts the veil on a speculated link between bra-wearing 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 toxins, 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.
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But in the study that compared the bra-wearing habits of 469 healthy postmenopausal 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 versus 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 “The Hutch,” 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.
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.