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Suspected Causes

They Never Mention The Bra!
A Personal Opinion By Ken L. Smith, BHF


Due to my study of the connection between the wearing of a bra and a higher risk for a diagnosis with Breast Cancer, I tend to read pretty deeply into news articles that talk about any ongoing research to find the cause of Breast Cancer. One thing that is seldom mentioned and never followed up on is the wearing of a bra. There can be any number of reasons for those that control the research monies to not want the bra/Breast Cancer relationship to be studied, but that is another subject. What we really need to know from the current research is: "Are the current findings showing that the bra cannot be suspected to be a cause for Breast Cancer?"

I have two recent news articles in front of me that I am going to go through here with you, and I will point out what the researchers are observing, and then we can ask ourselves "Could the bra be the reason for that... or do the results totally rule out the bra?"

We also have to understand, of course, that there may be any number of causes for a person to be diagnosed with Breast Cancer, but if the wearing of a bra actually can be causing a lot of the trouble, it should be at least seen as a POSSIBLE reason. Until someone actually repeats the research (and this time they observe the involvement of the bra), we may not be able to resolve the question about the bra and Breast Cancer connection.

The first article ("Clues sought on high breast cancer rates", Valley Times, 01/06/13 (A San Francisco Bay Area newspaper) describes the following:

"...a decades-long study to solve a troubling medical mystery: why big swaths of the Bay Area have abnormally high rates of invasive breast cancer."

Since most women in the Bay Area often wear bras, there is no reason to indicate that bras can not be a reason.

Compared to other regions in this country, regions that have lower rates of breast cancer, could it be possible that a higher number of women in the San Francisco Bay Area will wear bras for longer periods of the day than women in other parts of the country? If it were true that the heavier use of the bra was a reason for the higher rates of Breast Cancer, would San Francisco not reflect that by having a higher rate of Breast Cancer than other parts of the country?

"Researchers are looking at everything from genes - at least two have been identified that place women at higher risk - to environmental exposures and lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and alcohol use."

No mention is made throughout the whole article about the bra. Is the bra not a major part of the "lifestyle factors" that they mention? When a bra is worn, it is in direct, intimate contact with the breasts, usually moving the breasts into a different location (either higher or further apart). Some societies do not wear bras at all, and some wear them much less than the average woman living in the San Francisco region. In at least one study in Fiji it was shown that the women that do not wear bras have more than 130 times less risk of being diagnosed with Breast Cancer.

Exercise is mentioned as a suspected issue, and we already know that breasts must be able to move to allow their lymphatic fluids to flow into and out of the breasts, and those fluids carry away toxins which are strongly suspected as causes for Breast Cancer. Breasts will get inadequate movement and limited lymphatic fluid flow when a woman gets no exercise, or when she wears a restraining bra that does not allow her breasts to move when she exercises. If it were true that the amount of movement of the breasts is restricted by a bra, will the woman that exercises while wearing a bra be truly tested to see if exercise will help her to prevent Breast Cancer? Will not wearing the bra increase her lymphatic circulation and reduce her risk of Breast Cancer?

"They're also examining why Bay Area girls are starting to menstruate at a younger age, a national trend linked to increased Breast Cancer risk."

When a young woman reaches menarche' (first menstruation) at a younger age, her breasts mature at a younger age, and she will likely be wearing a bra at a younger age, increasing the number of years over her lifetime that she is wearing a bra. If it were true that the young woman is wearing a bra for an increased time due to early menarche', is it possible that the extra time her breasts are subjected to the restraint of the bra a possible reason for an increased risk of Breast Cancer? If it were true that wearing a bra increases the chance of having Breast Cancer, would wearing the bra for the extra years due to an early menarche' increase a woman's risk of Breast Cancer?

"Researchers first became aware of the region's high breast cancer rates in the early 1990's, particularly in Marin County."

Are the women in the Marin County area more likely to wear a bra for more hours in a day than the women say in Oakland or Milpitas? If it were true that the longer hours in a day that a woman wears a bra increases her risk of developing Breast Cancer, could the women living in the higher risk areas in the Bay Area, such as Marin County, possibly be wearing their bras for longer times each day than other parts of the Bay Area... areas with lower Breast Cancer incidences? Can the longer commute to work and home mean she wears her bra more hours in the day?

In the two decades since I started studying Breast Cancer, the incidence rate of a woman getting Breast Cancer (should she live to the age of 95) went from one in sixteen to what it is today... one in eight.

"One of the largest statewide studies involves 133,400 current or former public school teachers and administrators in the California State Teachers Retirement System. Begun in 1995, this study has found higher than expected rates of breast cancer among teachers  compared with statewide averages. The participants are answering questions about everything from diet and exercise to their medications, hormone therapies, and whether they use electric blankets or live near power lines, said Ms. Ch.... "

I was a teacher in California for three and a half decades, including the one in which that study started, and a female teacher shared the form with me. Nowhere did it mention anything about wearing a bra or other restrictive clothing. Being a teacher, and being as interested as I was/am about Breast Cancer, I can pretty well tell when a female teacher is not wearing a bra, and I never knew any one of them to come to class without a bra. And I can assure you that an administrator would have been talking to any female employee that was not wearing a bra during school time. We were even asked to discourage any students from coming to school without a bra. If it were true that wearing a bra more hours in the day could cause Breast Cancer to increase, could the fact that literally no female teachers were without their bra during class time be reason for teachers in the area having a higher Breast Cancer incidence rate?

"Another small pilot study based in the Bay Area will look at the differences in breast cancer rates among subgroups of the Asian population. U.S.-born Japanese, Chinese and Filipino women, for example, have higher breast cancer rates than foreign-born women from those countries said Ms. Sc...   . What is it about American diet and culture that might contribute to this?"

Well, let's see... could it be that American-born Japanese, Chinese and Filipino women are more likely to be wearing a bra for most of their adult life than their 'sisters' that live in their native societies? Do Japanese, Chinese and Filipino native women wear bras as much in their home countries as women in the San Francisco Bay Area would? If it were true that the excessive wearing of a bra caused a higher incidence of Breast Cancer, could it be that women born and living in the Bay Area wear a bra more than their 'sisters' in their native lands do, raising the local womens' risk of Breast Cancer?

On an earlier report in the same news paper, written by the same author ("Breast cancer rate up in area", Valley Times, 11/27/12) income levels were mentioned:

"Known breast cancer risk factors include having certain genetic mutations, using combined estrogen-progestin hormone replacement therapy, having no children or fewer children later in life, consuming two or more alcoholic drinks per day and spending little or no time breast-feeding during a lifetime. Such behaviors are more common among higher-income women. Regions of the nation with a large proportion of white women in upscale areas often have higher-than-average breast cancer rates, noted Dr. R......"

If higher-income women are more likely to have genetic mutations (I'm not sure how that could be possible), or more likely to use HRT, or to have fewer children... or have them later in life, or consume two or more alcoholic drinks per day, or spend little or no time breastfeeding, might it be possible that these same women might be more inclined to wear bras for more hours in the day... and evening? And if they have more income, might they be inclined to own more "special" bras that lift higher or reduce the breasts more or separate them more or grip the chest wall and breasts tighter because of exotically-lower-neckline fashion choices? If it were true that wearing a bra longer or wearing a tighter bra increased the risk of Breast Cancer, and higher-income women are more likely to do 'such behaviors', is it possible these women that have higher income levels might experience higher rates of Breast Cancer?

"In the Bay Area, the report also noted that women in these areas were slightly more likely to have been diagnosed earlier than women statewide and were more likely to have private insurance."

If it were true that wearing a bra more often raises a woman's incidence rate of Breast Cancer, is it not possible that women will start to wear bras at an earlier age, and will accumulate more "bra-time" more quickly than women that reach puberty at a later age and therefore will wear a bra for less time during her lifetime? Would that not be a reason for the toxins to accumulate over longer periods of time, and reach a critical amount of concentration in the breasts at an earlier age, causing Breast Cancer to occur at an earlier age? If it were true that wearing a bra tends to allow the toxins to accumulate in the breasts, would wearing the bra less hours each day reduce the chance of being diagnosed with Breast Cancer?

If you are concerned about what you might be able to do about lowering your own risk toward Breast Cancer, you might read some of the articles that are frequently published in the media about researchers trying to learn what could possibly be causing the increasing rates of incidence of Breast Cancer, and when you read it, test the statements that are made to see if there are chances where they might have learned something if they were to investigate the use of the bra as well as the other "causes" of Breast Cancer that are suspected.

Can you imagine what we might now know if those 133,400 women been asked what their bra-wearing habits were for the previous two decades, or the two decades before they received a diagnosis for Breast Cancer? We might either be in the position to put to rest this idea that bras can influence Breast Cancer... or we might by this time be re-thinking what damage excessive usage of the bra is doing. And that could mean a lot of those 255,000 women that will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer this year might not have to face the devastation of a biopsy, radiation, chemo-therapy, surgery, or death.  

How can such a large study, or any of the other Breast Cancer research studies so blatantly omit the possibility of the bra having any influence over breast health? Would they omit parenting influences when studying child behavior? Or the effects of shoes when studying foot health? Or study habits when studying student's scholastic achievements? Would we not study the shell if the peas were not healthy? Does a bra not affect breasts the same as a shell affects a pea, or a shoe a foot?

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Mr. Smith is a retired Health & Sex Education instructor, a Co-facilitator for a Cancer Support Group in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, and a public speaker on Breast Health. He is a certified Breast Health Facilitator for the American Cancer Society, but wants it to be understood that ACS is not responsible for any opinions or statistics expressed here in this article. ACS has done no studies on this issue and does not support the concept of the extended wearing of a bra causing a higher risk of breast cancer.