Bras and Breast Cancer

I just finished reading a very interesting book a friend recommended called Dressed to Kill, The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras. This book has been out for a few years, and I’m kind of shocked I am just learning about it now. But just as gluten free, Paleo, fat is good and the fact there are really bad toxins in our food and personal care products were not talked about in mainstream media when I learned about them, I guess these things just take time – and bloggers and social media spreading the word!

Bras are an integral part of our culture and fashion. The thought bras could be contributing to the significant rise in breast cancer was an eye opener for me. No matter how much I think I have learned about ways our health is impacted by our environment and our culture, it seems there is more to know.

I encourage you to read the book and form your own opinion – I found it compelling. This husband and wife team began their research after the wife found a lump in her breast while pregnant. Instead of approaching the subject of breast cancer from the basic science perspective, the authors used an applied medical anthropology approach by trying to find the biological consequences of certain cultural practices. Their research showed that wearing bras is a trigger for breast cancer.

I was born in 1960 so thus was too young for the “bra burning” era of the 1960’s, which was meant as “a serious critique of the modern beauty culture – of valuing women for their looks instead of their whole self and valuing comfort over social expectations.” It’s too bad it didn’t become a true cultural shift as it could have likely prevented the enormous rise we have seen in the occurrence of breast cancer as well as non-malignant lumps.

Some troubling statistics:

  • Breast cancer has the highest incidence of any cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer-related death among women after lung cancer.
  • The death rate from breast cancer has not changed much since the 1930s, however the incident rates, the number of new cases of the disease each year, have steadily climbed this century, reaching alarming proportions.
  • 90% of all women in the US will experience a breast cancer scare by discovering a breast lump during their lifetime. Fortunately the vast majority of these will be benign.

The authors found that bras have a significant impact on the lymphatic system, the part of the immune system that cleanses the body of toxins. Our environment bombards our bodies with toxins on a daily basis. Because bras constrict breast tissue and prevent the lymphatic system from doing its job, toxins become pooled in the constricted breast tissue.  Long term accumulation of toxins can lead to degeneration of tissue which could result in the ultimate tissue degeneration – cancer.

What I have learned about the effect toxins have on our body has led me to replace all of our personal care products (deodorant, cosmetics, shaving cream, toothpaste, hair products, laundry products, cleaning products) and OTC medications with natural alternatives, as well as buy organic foods and grass fed meats. Even so, I know that going out to eat and living in our environment means you can’t avoid everything, but it reduces the burden your body has of detoxifying itself. I really had no idea that a bra would be impacting my body’s ability to rid itself of toxins.

The solution? Ditch the bra. For those of us leaving the house each day, the idea of going braless can be pretty daunting, especially if you work in a cold office building with a bunch of men. But just like taking steps to remove the toxins we have control over, there are steps you can take to help your body do its job.

  • Reduce the amount of time the bra is worn each day. The authors found the average woman is 19 times more likely to develop breast cancer than a woman who wears bras less than 12 hours a day.
  • Do not wear a bra to sleep! Wearing a bra to sleep is the riskiest lifestyle behavior of all. For some women nighttime is the only time breast tissues get a much-needed rest from constriction. If you wear clothes to bed, choose loose fitting garments.
  • Avoid bras with underwires or other stiff breast shaping components. Avoid push up bras and most sports bras, which compress the breasts. Avoid strapless bras for more than occasional use as these are especially tight around the armpits and are more constricting than other bra types.
  • Wear a proper-fitting bra. The guidelines in the book are much different that you’ll get from the Victoria Secret saleswoman! If the bra leaves red marks or grooves on the skin it’s too tight even if it feels “comfortable”.

The book also has some fashion suggestions for de-emphasizing the breasts (that is certainly counter cultural!!) so a woman can feel comfortable with a looser bra or go without.  Like everything regarding wellness, how much a person is willing to do in order to improve their health is a personal choice. But I think having good information is key to how we make those choices.

For me, I am taking every opportunity to go braless. I’ve never slept in a bra, but I take off my bra now immediately when I get home from work or when I’m home for the day. I switched from an underwire bra to a looser one that has removable modesty pads.  It’s definitely a liberating feeling!

I am grateful each day for wellness, happiness and the opportunity to share with you.