Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP is the latest site to stoke false fears about bras and breast cancer (scaremongering being a nice touch for breast cancer awareness month – wraps up the whole October fright fest thing with a pink bow). The post is written by Dr. Habib Sadeghi, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and apparently the person who brought us the term conscious uncoupling.
Dr. Sadeghi dives right into the nonsense quoting a debunked book from 1995, Dressed to Kill, as if it were medical literature. He states that a 1991 study found that “pre-menopausal women who did not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer when compared to bra users. ” Except that’s not what the study found. The study published in the European Journal of Cancer in 1991 by Hsieh, entitled Breast size, handedness, and breast cancer risk, found the following:
Premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users (P about 0.09), possibly because they are thinner and likely to have smaller breasts. Among bra users, larger cup size was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer (P about 0.026), although the association was found only among postmenopausal women and was accounted for, in part, by obesity. These data suggest that bra cup size (and conceivably mammary gland size) may be a risk factor for breast cancer.
The conclusion from this study was breast size increased the risk of breast cancer and not because larger breasts need more manhandling by underwires, but possibly because larger breasts are associated with obesity a known risk for breast cancer.*
Dr. Sadeghi also quotes “research” by the authors of Dressed to Kill, Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer, that claims to have followed 5,000 women over two years linking breast cancer to bra wearing. Except the good doctor’s
definition of research and mine clearly differ – this data is not published in any medical journal. Singer and his cohort Grismaijer have zero publications regarding breast cancer according to PubMed. They can throw around any numbers they want, but if their unpublished study wasn’t IRB approved and the data isn’t available for peer review it’s worthless. Oh, and neither Singer nor Grismaijer are doctors or cancer researchers.
Sadeghi and another one of his experts, Dr. Michael Schacter MD of the Schacter Center for Complementary Medicine, worry that bras impede lymphatic flow. This, they opine, could cause “toxic chemicals” to be trapped in the breast. This theory isn’t backed by any scientific articles, but rather by a manual on complementary health authored by Schacter in 1996 (The Prevention and Complementary Treatment of Breast Cancer). Lymphatic obstruction is not a risk factor for cancer. If it were all the lymph node dissections done to save people from various cancers would paradoxically be killing them. We actually have mountains of data on outcomes after lymph node dissection, so if impeding lymph flow caused cancer we’d know.
As an aside I don’t know what kind of bras these men have seen, but if your bra is impeding your lymphatic flow it is going to harm you because it will hurt. A lot. The kind of compression required to impact lymphatic flow is pretty significant. Maybe they should all wear one for a day or two so they can better understand exactly what a bra is and how it fits and works.
Sadeghi also postulates that a bra could raise the temperature of breast tissue. Does he know that bras are not down filled or made of mink? Facts about fabrics and the thermogenic properties of bras aside, he considers this a valid theory (bras raising breast temperature) because “It’s been known for quite some time that men who regularly wear tight-fitting pants can disturb testosterone production and even their fertility by altering the temperature of the testicles.” Yes, because if men who wear tight-fitting pants can have fertility concerns then obviously tight bras cause cancer. Except testicles are not homologues of the breast and tight pants don’t affect fertility. The whole boxers vs briefs thing is a myth, however, heat (like a hot tub) can damage sperm cells. It’s nothing to do with testosterone, it’s a direct effect of heat on spermatogenesis.
There is a fairly robust case control study (or as robust as we are likely to see) by Dr. Chen et. al. showing no risk with bra wearing in 2014 (never mind that the connection seems biologically implausible), but Sadeghi questions that study because big cancer doesn’t want a bra-breast cancer link because all of us non complementary and alternative doctors who don’t offer lymphatic rejuvenation therapy in our clinics are really tools of Big Lingerie. Sadeghi says, “Perhaps the researchers felt it was inappropriate to implicate bras in breast cancer when they’re used to raise money for the institution.” He is questioning the validity of the study because the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle (where Dr. Chen works) gets money from a 5K called the Bra Dash. Researchers, clearly desperate to get the money from the 5K that has participants wear pink bras are hiding data on bras and breast cancer. Does GOOP have an editor that actually approves this stuff?
And then there is the wire, yes, Sadeghi postulates that an underwire could “magnify and sustain electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) and radiation from things like cell phones and Wi-Fi.” Sorry, it IS as far-fetched as it sounds.
There is no science to back up a bra and breast cancer connection, never mind that the mechanism is biologically implausible. The myth has been debunked so many times I have lost track, but if you want more data read Dr. David Gorski, a cancer surgeon (so someone who knows a lot more about breast cancer than Sadeghi, Singer, or Schacter). He has debunked the myth several times. There is also no data to suggest carrying your cell phone in your bra can cause cancer. By the way, Sadeghi doesn’t think you should even have WiFi in your house.
It’s so ludicrous that it should be funny, except some women will read this and be scared.
Ladies, wear your bra or don’t. Your choice. Heck, wear it to bed if it’s comfortable. It’s all good. If it’s digging in get a fitting from an expert, not because it could be building up toxins but because everyone should know the joy of a well-fitted bra.
*August 1, 2017 This post has been updated as the language about breast size and breast cancer was clunky and could possibly lead to some confusion. The association between breast cancer and bra size specifically relates to the 1991 article that is quoted above (i.e. what the study actually concluded, not what Paltrow’s expert concluded).