and Breast Cancer
mostly deal with issues concerning PMS and menopause, but some time
ago I ran across an interesting article on the National Library
of Medicine database. That article, a Harvard study, documented
an increase in breast cancer rates between women who wear bras versus
those who don't. Fascinated by their findings, I pondered the intuitive
wisdom exhibited by women of my generation (I'm 52), who had gleefully
"burned their bras" in the late 60's and early 70's.
began my searches through medical literature for possible explanations.
On my journey, I rediscovered Dressed
to Kill, the latest edition of which came out in March
to Kill, a book by Sidney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer,
should be required reading for all women and their significant others.
In clear language, it provides a very logical explanation for something
that should be, but is not, common sense.
are some of their findings:
* Women who
wore their bras 24 hours per day had a 3 out of 4 chance of developing
* Women who
wore bras more than 12 hour per day, but not to bed, had a 1 out
of 7 risk.
* Women who
wore their bras less than 12 hours per day had a 1 out of 52 risk.
* Women who
wore bras rarely or never had a 1 out of 168 chance of getting
overall difference between 24 hour wearing and not at all was a
125-fold difference. The results of this study are compelling, even
considering that it was not a "controlled study" for other risk
factors. Bear in mind that known (published in medical journals)
risk factors for breast cancer are mostly in the range of less than
should also be noted that Singer and Grismaijer surveyed bra-wearing
behavior of the past, which is excellent for a disease with such
a long development period. In their book, the authors show how most
of the known risk factors can be related to bra-wearing behavior
and/or the restriction of the lymphatic system. Their explanation
of impaired lymphatic flow intrigued me.
example, breast-feeding and pregnancy cause full development of
the mammary lymphatics. Also, women of higher economic status have
higher breast cancer rates, and as one might suspect, they are "required"
to wear their bras more hours per day. Women who exercise have lower
risk, which could relate to better lymphatic circulation (and I
would add, more breast movement).
circulation in many tissues (especially the primary lymphatics)
is highly dependent on MOVEMENT. When you sit for a long time on
an airplane flight, your feet and ankles can swell, because lymphatic
circulation goes to near zero. Wearing a bra, especially a constricting
one with under-wires, and especially to bed, prevents normal lymphatic
flow and would likely lead to anoxia (lower than normal oxygen content),
which has been related to fibrosis, which has been linked to increased
evolved under conditions where there was BREAST MOVEMENT with every
step that they took when they walked or ran. My reading of the scientific
literature about lymphatic flow shows me that this may be as important
as the constriction factor. Every subtle bounce of the breast while
moving, walking, running, etc., gently massages the breast and increases
lymphatic flow and, thus, cleans the breast of toxins and wastes
that arise from cellular metabolism.
course, there may be other mechanisms for the damage that bras apparently
cause. One such mechanism could be temperature. Breasts are external
organs and have a naturally lower temperature. Cancers can be temperature-dependent.
Breast cancer is hormone-dependent. Temperature can alter hormone
function. Breast temperature changes throughout the monthly cycle.
these facts are from the medical literature. By whatever mechanism,
someone will eventually explain why Singer and Grismaijer found
a 125-fold difference in cancer rates between bra-free breasts and
those constricted by 24-hour-per-day bra wearing.
some may discount their findings because:
professionals are "addicted" to using drugs to cure a problem
(in this case cancer), instead of finding ways to prevent the
professionals are "addicted" to the thought that only they have
the "answers" because they're "qualified."
companies want people to "cure" themselves through medication
and not prevention or alternative treatments, because every person
who gets cancer increases shareholder value.
an interesting experiment, the next time you walk down the street,
notice visually how constricting bras are. On many women you can
actually see "dents" around the sides of their chests where their
bras are, even in something as opaque as a black t-shirt. A therapist
friend of mine, after reading Dressed
to Kill, said that she was amazed at what she saw in
her practice at a local medical clinic. She noticed how many women
have red creases and grooves on their bodies caused by their bras.
and Grismajer suggest that you simply stop wearing one for two weeks
and see how you feel. I've heard that they're currently working
on a new study. The research is to study whether benign fibrocystic
breast disease can be treated by stopping bra wearing for eight
weeks. That should be very interesting; this time they are involving
medical doctors to further validate their findings.
to the bra-burning thing of the 60s. The argument against going
braless was a moral argument, not a scientific or an aesthetic argument:
"It's just plain wrong to NOT wear a bra." Society still has that
bizarre, puritanical, unhealthy attitude toward sex that requires
women to bundle up their breasts so they don't jiggle in a provocative
way. Unless, of course, you are talking about the media/sex industry
which would have women jiggle to please. Women are continuously
being bombarded with such mixed messages.
recently, people scoffed at the idea that Hormone Replacement Therapy
(HRT) was not good for women! The synthetic hormones were, in mainstream
public opinion, perhaps the best things since sliced bread! Even
if further research with highly controlled studies on breast health
and bra wearing only shows a difference of 5-fold, or even 2-fold,
it will be no laughing matter.
tight shoes show their harm through pain that makes it difficult
to walk. Bras do not provide that clear a signal. Or do they? Many
women who do not have breast cancer are seeking treatment for breast
fibrocysts and breast pain.
this "bundling" is obviously unhealthy, a still unhealthy society
will continue to "require" it of their women (just like tight pants,
high heels, and earth-and-human-killing hair treatments, cosmetics,
men and women should read this book with an open mind. And, women
should allow themselves to be challenged to face the real reason
they wear a bra. So much bra wearing is unneeded- it's just vanity,
feeling pressure from a society that thinks it's wrong to "jiggle,"
or feeling pressure from a society with an unhealthy idealized sense
of beauty (the "perfect female figure").
a man wants a woman to look a certain way that requires her to bundle,
tuck, pinch, pluck, or use nasty chemicals, it's time for her to
consider finding a healthier partner whose demands (everybody has
them!) will allow her to be not just alive, but healthy enough to
enjoy bouncing grandchildren on the knee.
personal opinion is this: Experience tells me that constant binding
is an unhealthy practice. Breast tenderness, fibrocysts, and breast
cancer-which I hear about from women daily on the PMS and Menopause
hotline-are no laughing matter! Many women-mostly well educated,
of higher economic status (that's all of us compared to most of
the rest of the world!)-are categorically unable to enjoy sex because
of these conditions.
something as simple as wearing a sports bra or camisole instead
of the underwire pushup numbers (and not looking as young and shapely)
can be an effective symptomatic treatment for conditions that in
some women are pre-cancerous, why not? It's not a substitute for
basic good-health practices like cutting out alcohol and caffeine,
eating a low-fat diet, and supplementing with vitamins E and A.
It may, however, be a very useful adjunct.
part of good health is the ability to laugh and play and have fun.
This practice is deeply ingrained in our society and it certainly
would not "hurt" to "play dress up" from time to time! Prevention,
not treatment-that's the key. Don't trust the medical industry,
don't trust the pharmaceutical industry, and, certainly, don't trust
the media on this! Trust your body and trust yourself.
Jones is the Director of Tides of Life PMS & Menopause Center,
Bras and Breast Cancer
Phobia, the Bra, and Breast Cancer
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