Bras & Breast Cancer:
Myth Or Fact?
By Sydney Ross Singer
October 2018

Many websites casually refer to the wearing of a bra being associated with higher incident rates of breast cancer as a myth.
They are misinformed.

It has been mentioned in too many websites that it is a myth that wearing a bra can increase the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. I would like to respond to each of these claims. I am a medical anthropologist breast cancer researcher and co-author of Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras. Since our book and 1991-93 US Bra and Breast Cancer Study shocked the world in 1995, there have been numerous other studies supporting the bra-cancer link, and many newly patented bras designed to be safer for the breasts have been created based on our research and book.

Websites will often make reference to one “study” that was done that “proves” bras cannot cause breast cancer, such as the following statements:

  • Myth: Bras cause breast cancer.

  • Fact: A 2014 study found there is no link between wearing a bra, underwire or non-underwire, and developing breast cancer.

First, let me explain that doctors knew bras were causing breast cancer as far back as the 1930’s. For example, Dr. John Mayo, one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic, wrote in the article “Susceptibility to Cancer” in the 1931 Annals of Surgery, that “Cancer of the breast occurs largely among civilized women. In those countries where breasts are allowed to be exposed, that is, are not compressed or irritated by clothing, it is rare.” A bra patent in 1950 stated, “Even in the proper breast size, most brassieres envelop or bind the breast in such a fashion that normal circulation and freedom of movement is constricted. Many cases of breast cancer have been attributed to such breast constriction as caused by improperly fitted brassieres.”  (Taken from the 2018 edition of Dressed to Kill.)

The issue has to do with constriction from tight bras and the effect this has on lymphatic circulation, which is the immune system. The purpose of bras is to alter breast shape, and to do this the bra applies constant pressure to the breasts, which interferes with lymphatic circulation. Wearing tight bras compresses and constricts these delicate lymphatic vessels, preventing the proper elimination of fluid and toxins from the breasts, and impairing immune function and the ability to fight developing cancer cells. Essentially, bras cause chronic, mild lymphedema of the breasts which causes breast pain, cysts, and can lead to cancer.

Getting back to these false webpage claims, that Hutchinson 2014 study mentioned only studied post-menopausal bra-using women, and more importantly, it did not include any bra-free women. According to the study, "It is important to acknowledge some of the limitations of this study...Because bra wearing was ubiquitous among our participants, we were unable to compare risks among women who never wore a bra to those who regularly wore a bra, and instead our primary comparison was based on average number of hours per day women wore a bra.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4184992/ 

This means that their statement is misleading when they say they looked at bra usage and cancer incidence. They omitted the control group of bra-free women. That’s like studying lung cancer and omitting non-smokers. 

This study appears to be no more than a hit piece designed to disprove the bra-cancer link, meant to be the last word on this issue, since the link is an inconvenient truth in a bra-using culture, and exposes the flaws in breast cancer research that has been ignoring the health impacts of bras on breasts. But as you know, one study is never the last word on any issue in science, despite the desire of some that this issue go away.

The fact is that numerous studies show a bra-cancer link. The most recent, which have come out since this 2014 study, are:

Wearing a bra restricts natural lymphatic flow in the breasts, causing “Lymph stasis”, or inadequate flow of lymphatic fluids in the human breasts. Here are some recent studies showing lymph stasis causes cancer:

  • 2016 Lymphatic Vessels, Inflammation, and Immunity in Skin Cancer Cancer Discov. 2016 Jan; 6(1): 22–35. 

  • 2017 Surgical damage to the lymphatic system promotes tumor growth via impaired adaptive immune response Journal of Dermatological Science April 2018Volume 90, Issue 1, Pages 46–51 "These results strongly indicate that surgical damage of the lymphatic system may promote tumor progression via impaired adaptive immune response."

  • 2018 Lymph stasis promotes tumor growth Journal of Dermatological Science "(t)hese findings come as no surprise to us who for a long time have been aware that alterations in regional lymphatic flow may produce dysregulation in skin immune function and consequent oncogenesis. In fact, since 2002, our team has held the view that lymphedematous areas are immunologically vulnerable sites for the development of neoplasms as well as infections and immune-mediated diseases. In recent years, increasing evidence has confirmed this assumption."

I hope I have demonstrated that the statement on these websites calling this link a “myth” is not true. More research should be called for, not less. 

Why are the ACS, Komen Foundation, and breastcancer.org (some websites’ referenced source) misinforming the public about this issue? It’s because bras are big money, and so is breast cancer detection and treatment. According to my conversation with David Sampson, ACS director of communications, this issue will take lots of studies before they will support it, since there will be lots of upset people if bras are shown to cause cancer. This is also why it took 30 years and 7000 studies before the US Surgeon General announced the tobacco-cancer link. Culture-caused diseases are resisted by affected industries. Unfortunately, they have taken the position that this issue should not get any further consideration, instead of calling for more research. I believe this is because breast cancer studies to date that have been ignoring bra usage in their study design are flawed. That’s like studying lung cancer and ignoring if the subjects smoke. This challenges expert opinion that has denied a bra-cancer link, and puts into question the value of past research. And since the ACS and Komen have taken a position calling this link a myth, how will they explain to women that they have been wrong these past 25 years that they have been resisting and suppressing this information?  Millions of women could have been spared this disease had the ACS and other authorities taken a more interested approach in researching this issue. 

There is also a conflict of interest between the prevention of a disease and the early detection and treatment of disease. Preventing breast cancer by eliminating breast constriction from tight garments does not serve the current detect and treat medical model. And asking women to consider their bra usage is a difficult job, as we have discovered over the past 25 years. Medicine is not in the business of changing the culture, but in treating culture-caused disease. And, FYI,  breastcancer.org is supported by dozens of drug companies which make cancer treatment drugs. 

By the way, the reason this issue has not been completely suppressed is because women who have stopped wearing bras as a result of this information and have discovered for themselves that their breast pain and cysts go away once the bra is no longer used. Breasts also lift and tone once the natural suspensory ligaments regain strength after years of artificial support. These women also say they can breathe easier without a tight band around the chest. And in the current #MeToo environment, women are asking themselves why they have to wear bras in the first place, and why artificially-shaped breasts are so important on women, but not on men.

Clearly, it can’t be healthy for a woman to constrict her breasts with bras for long hours daily, day after day, year after year, from puberty until death. Ignoring the bra when studying breast disease is like ignoring shoes when studying foot disease, or ignoring smoking when studying lung disease. 

I have more if needed. I hope I have justified my argument that the many web pages are in error in calling this a myth, and should actually be calling for more research.


Sydney Ross Singer
Medical Anthropologist 
Director, Good Shepherd Foundation
PO Box 270
Lowell, OR 97452