I have written on this subject before because it’s a myth that just won’t go away. Some of this is perpetuated by the authors of the book Dressed to kill: The link between breast cancer and bras and by people like Joe Mercola.
The post I recently wrote on this subject was trolled by one of the authors with such comments such as:
“are you paid to make these attacks against us and the bra-cancer link?”
“Lack of studies does not mean lack of truth. It means lack of interest and suppression of the research.”
“Whatever your motives are for publishing this article, science and open-mindedness are not part of it.”
If I had a thin skin I might wonder if I could possibly be a short-sighted troglodyte tool of Big Lingerie and not a physician who cares that her patients and the general public get high quality information. After all, you can’t be an empowered patient with inaccurate information.
Fortunately I don’t have a thin skin.
While there is a lot of indirect evidence to say that there is no link between breast cancer and bras, it is true that no study directly addresses the question. I am also not aware of any study that addresses underwear wearing and vulvar cancer, but that doesn’t mean that underwear causes vulvar cancer. The lack of direct studies sometimes means there is so much indirect evidence to negate the idea and/or the hypothesis is simply not scientifically credible.
But now we have a case-control study designed specifically to address bra wearing and breast cancer, Bra Wearing Not Associated with Breast Cancer Risk: A Population-Based Case–Control Study in Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. I really couldn’t summarize it any better than the abstract:
Despite the widespread use of bras among U.S. women and concerns in the lay media that bra wearing may increase breast cancer risk, there is a scarcity of credible scientific studies addressing this issue. The goal of the study was to evaluate the relationship between various bra-wearing habits and breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women. We conducted a population-based case–control study of breast cancer in the Seattle–Puget Sound metropolitan area that compared 454 invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) cases and 590 invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) cases diagnosed between 2000 and 2004 with 469 control women between 55 to 74 years of age. Information on bra-wearing habits and other breast cancer risk factors was collected from study participants through in-person interviews. Multivariate adjusted odds ratios (OR) and their associated 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated using polytomous logistic regression. No aspect of bra wearing, including bra cup size, recency, average number of hours/day worn, wearing a bra with an underwire, or age first began regularly wearing a bra, was associated with risks of either IDC or ILC. Our results did not support an association between bra wearing and increased breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women.
So wear your bras ladies. Or not. Your choice. They aren’t going to give you cancer.
Snake oil hypotheses are damaging. It is a lot easier to create doubt and damage than people think. The false autism/vaccine hypothesis from Wakefield’s now retracted case series of 12 children is proof of that. Snake oil and medical profiteering unnecessarily scares many people, can cause some to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on therapies that can’t possibly help and may very well harm, can lead many to get unnecessary tests, and the studies done to disprove these false beliefs actually diverts research funds and researchers from other more scientifically and medically germane avenues of investigation.