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Bras and Breast Cancer

brasMy office recently received a call from a patient asking about the risk of her sports bra causing breast cancer. At first I dismissed this as a strange question but I quickly realized that this was based on something she read rather than simply made up. While I may be propagating the rumor by discussing it online, it’s important to address this concern and definitively say there is no connection between the two.


This pseudoscience all started out with a book publishing some “research” even though it was never peer reviewed. This means that no one outside of the research team reviewed the study and it’s data to confirm accurate data collection or generally accepted principles of the scientific method.


Tight Fitting Bras and Breast Cancer

Here are the bullet points of the rationale of the link between tight fitting bras (eg sports bras) and breast cancer:


  • Bras constrict the breast and inhibit proper functioning of the lymphatic system in the breast
  • Reduced functioning of the lymphatic system leads to a buildup of fluid in the breast
  • cancer-causing substances that we take into the body will concentrate more readily in the breast because the lymphatic system doesn’t flush out these chemicals
  • Concentration of toxins in the breast lead to breast cancer


The authors pointed out that tribal communities that don’t wear bras don’t have breast cancer, thus proof that bras cause cancer. They ignored other factors that can lead to breast cancer that are also absent in those tribal communities.


Even though their book sounds crazy, someone is buying it because they published in 1995 and then had a new edition in 2005! By the way, the National Institutes of Health and other respected organizations, that I’m pretty sure are not beholden to the “bra lobby” have shown more scientific evidence that refutes any link between bras and breast cancer.




2 Responses

  1. Dr. Kaplan, I think you should not just rely on Wikipedia for your medical information. This is Sydney Ross Singer, medical anthropologist and co-author of Dressed to Kill, which you dismiss as “pseudoscience”. Actually, there are numerous studies which support the bra-cancer link, including a 1991 Harvard study, (CC Hsieh, D Trichopoulos (1991). Breast size, handedness and breast cancer risk. European Journal of Cancer and Clinical Oncology 27(2):131-135.). This study found that, “Premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users…”

    There are others. Most recently was a 2015 peer reviewed epidemiological study done in Kenya which found a very significant link. ( “Comparative study of breast cancer risk factors at Kenyatta National Hospital and the Nairobi Hospital”.

    There are numerous studies done in China that show the bra-cancer link. Here is one. (Zhang AQ, Xia JH, Wang Q, Li WP, Xu J, Chen ZY, Yang JM (2009). [Risk factors of breast cancer in women in Guangdong and the countermeasures]. In Chinese. Nan Fang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao. 2009 Jul;29(7):1451-3.) found that NOT sleeping in a bra was protective against breast cancer, lowering the risk 60%.

    2011 a study was published, in Spanish, confirming that bras are causing breast disease and cancer. – It found that underwired and push-up bras are the most harmful, but any bra that leaves red marks or indentations may cause disease.

    The only study that refutes the link was done by the Fred Hutchinson Center in 2014. That study was flawed, as admitted by the grad student who did the study, but the study was designed to disprove the link so the flaw was required. (In other words, there was an agenda.) The flaw was that there were no bra-free women in the study, so there was no control group. All the participants were post-menopausal over 55 women who were lifetime bra users. It was like comparing lifetime smokers to one another to determine the impact of smoking, while having no baseline of nonsmokers. Ridiculous.

    Apart from studies, I cannot see why you have trouble understanding how lymph-stasis can lead to cancer. I suggest you read my book, Dressed to Kill, before you continue to misinform the public. Feel free to contact me if you would like further information.

    1. Oh wow! Very cool that the author of the book I referenced responded to my blog post. Thanks so much for reading! Everyone out there – read my post and read Dressed to Kill if you choose, and make your own informed decision!

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