Can Wearing a Bra Cause Breast Cancer?

As a breast health education organization that presents breast cancer prevention programs to the public, we often get asked by worried women whether wearing a bra can cause breast cancer. There have been a number of rumors about bras and breast cancer. In recent years, this idea along with other breast cancer myths have become widespread thanks to the internet and email. The rumor exists in a few variations, but common ones involve:

  • Underwire bras
  • Bras which are too tight
  • Badly fitting bras
  • Wearing your bra to bed at night
  • Wearing your bra for too many hours per day

The simple fact of the matter is this: there is absolutely no proven link between wearing a bra and breast cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) confirms “we do not know of any epidemiologic studies published in scientific journals that suggest bras directly contribute to breast cancer.”

We know that these kinds of myths can be a bit unnerving, though, so let’s discuss the logic behind these misconceptions.

Underwire, Tight, Or Badly Fitting Bras And Breast Cancer

It is a popular myth that metal underwires (the part that goes underneath the breast providing extra support and uplift), tight or badly fitting bras cause compression in the chest area. This is claimed to cause breast cancer by preventing the lymph system from clearing toxins. Common scientific theory of breast cancer cause, however, is that gene mutations lead to cells dividing suddenly and rapidly (though the cause of the mutation itself is yet unknown). This is not believed to have anything to do with the lymph system. Experts agree that the clothing you choose to wear (including your undergarments!) should have no impact at all on your risk of developing breast cancer.

Breast Cancer And Sleeping In Your Bra or Wearing A Bra for Too Long

According to the myth, wearing your bra every night or for too long daily prevents your pores from being able to breathe. Sweat accumulates and toxins build up which are believed to cause breast cancer. The same applies for wearing a bra which is too tight. This version of the bra myth has equally been excused as implausible by leading cancer organizations, scientists and breast surgeons alike.

I’m Still Not Convinced—How Do I Know These Breast Cancer Bra Rumors Aren’t True?

  • The Evidence Isn’t There: The rumors originate from only one study by husband and wife team Singer and Grismaijer. This research was never considered fit for peer review. It completely ignored other known risk factors for breast cancer (such as age and weight) plus the participants actually knew the predicted outcome of the investigation!
  • What About Men? Think about it: men can get breast cancer too and yet they don’t wear bras. This surely wouldn’t make sense if bra-wearing was a leading cause of breast cancer.
  • History Tells a Different Tale: Breast cancer has been around far longer than bras. As far back as 1600 BC the first mentions of cancerous breast tumors in humans were described on the Edwin Smith Papyrus. Bras, on the other hand, only replaced the corset in the late 19th century and weren’t made in their current form (with under-wiring or tight support structure) until well into the 1930s.

If In Doubt, Check It Out

Though no link has been proven between wearing a bra and your risk of breast cancer, it does make sense to ensure that the bra you are wearing is comfortable. Breast pain and tenderness can often be associated with poorly fitting bras so if you are experiencing this it may be worth arranging a professional bra fitting. If you still have any concerns about your breasts during your routine breast self-exam, you may want to schedule a clinical breast exam by your doctor or a mammogram if you’re over 40.

[Photo by iStockphoto]