VS Breast Cancer: Whom Do I Believe?
you one of the many that have asked yourself this
question? Somewhere along the line you heard
something about bras and breast cancer being
connected, and it is a question that just seems to
continue to be asked by others, but 'everyone' tells
you that there is no truth to that statement. Where
did the question come from in the first place? Is it
true that wearing a bra can increase our chances of
developing breast cancer or not? And are those that
say it has no connection telling us the whole truth?
Or are they just guessing? Or do they have a
reason to not tell the whole truth?
I would say "YES" to that question. You definitely should look for a scientific study that shows whether or not there actually is a connection between a person wearing a bra for many hours a day and that person having a higher, lower, or similar risk of developing breast cancer as someone that never wears a bra, or wears it sparingly. One real problem surfaces almost immediately: there have only been a very small number of studies done on this subject. We deserve much more work to be done on this. Too much is at risk if we do not do this. Enough discussions on the subject and studies have been done, in my opinion, to show that there is a good chance that there is some validity to the claim that there is a connection between wearing a bra and breast health. And if there truthfully is that connection, then the longer women wear the bras that they wear today, the number of women that suffer or die from breast cancer will be even greater. Currently, a quarter million women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
This whole concept of wearing a bra increasing your chance of being diagnose with breast cancer seems to stem from a study done by Soma Grismaijer and Sydney Singer, two medical anthropologists. Their first study (called the "Bra and Breast Cancer Study" or BBC Study), which began in 1991, surveyed nearly 5,000 women in five major cities across the US. About half the women were breast cancer patients and half had never been diagnosed with breast cancer. The women were asked about how they felt about their breasts and their bras during the several decades leading up to the study (or before their diagnosis if they had breast cancer). By some researchers' standards that is a small population to poll, but since nearly one out of eight women in any urban population will be diagnosed with breast cancer sometime in their lifetime, that number of women should pretty well cover all the variables that might impact breast health, so the interviews were concentrated on the women's attitudes about their breasts and their bra-wearing behaviors, before diagnosis and now. Their findings were clear that women that were diagnosed with breast cancer were also more likely to have a history of wearing bras, and wearing them for longer periods of time. It can also be stated that those that did not wear bras at all or wore them for shorter periods of time were less likely to have had a breast cancer diagnosis. Grismaijer and Singer stated it clearly when they said: "Women who wear their bras all the time have a 113-fold increase in breast cancer incidence when compared with women who wear their bras less than twelve hours daily!"1 FYI: a "10-fold reduction" means 1,000% reduction... those are very influential numbers.
They further stated: "It follows that going braless is associated with a 21-fold reduction in breast cancer incidence compared with the general standard population. This also means that wearing a bra for less than twelve hours daily is associated with a 10-percent greater incidence of breast cancer than is not wearing a bra. Further, wearing a bra all the time is associated with a 125-fold greater incidence of breast cancer than is wearing no bra at all. " 1
I was very much impressed by a follow-up study these same authors/researchers did in Fiji, a country where bras were pretty much unknown and unworn until western fashions were introduced during World War II, and the local affluent and professional women took up the new styles. When Singer and Grismaijer's work was made known to the authorities in that nation, their comment was "That explains why our working women are getting breast cancer. They are the ones who wear bras."2 The anthropologists state: "We then went around the country, from village to village, looking for random breast cancer histories."2 "What we discovered was 28 cases of breast cancer, and each was in a woman who had worn bras. At the same time we observed that about 50% of the female population was bra-free."2 They further stated: "What this showed was that, given women with the same diet and family history, the ones getting breast disease are the ones who wear bras."2
Should that mean anything to us today? We learned long ago that binding the feet of young Chinese children caused major deformities but small feet were preferred by the local society. Smaller feet in grown women were revered. The binding of their feet caused the major deformities to the feet. We know that when we go to a podiatrist with sore feet they look first at our shoes. Our feet were never designed for shoes. That was something that mortal man has come up with at a later time in history. Wearing improper shoes will often cause injury to our feet. So when a higher percentage of the working women that wore bras on their breasts had a higher incidence of breast cancer it should not be too much of a 'reach' to suspect the wearing of the bra as being instrumental in that higher incidence of breast cancer, as well as a higher incidence of "Fibrocystic Breast Disease" and Cystic Breasts.
But sometimes we are reluctant to accept what seems to be rather obvious. How many decades did it take to finally reach the point where society would "accept" the positive correlation between smoking and lung cancer? Some still resist that fact. How long will it take for (United States) society to "accept" that a bra putting pressure on delicate breast tissues may actually affect the health of that breast?
Ok, now it is your turn. How do you answer your original question that we started with? On the basis of both the BBC and the Fijian studies it appears that wearing a bra caused women to have a higher rate of breast cancer. We know of other things that cause higher risks, of course, and they had to play a part in this, but draw a parallel between the American women today (along with the Fijian women) that wear bras, and the ones that do not wear bras: Is it possible that the women that wore the bras drank more alcohol (a known risk for breast cancer) than those not wearing bras? Did the ones wearing the bras take more estrogen-based medications (another proven risk)? Or have fewer babies? Or breastfeed their children any longer? Or did they have a higher number of relatives that had a history of breast cancer? We could argue these points to exhaustion but we do not know those answers. Speaking logically, however, you would likely accept what the studies found to be rather obvious. Or in the very least, if you are of a 'scientific mindset' you might suggest that a deeper, more extensive study be done to narrow up some of these questions a little.
It seems that many find it easy to accept a simple statement (whether it proves to be correct or not) from what seems like what should be a 'reliable' source, that tells us "No one has proven it to us!" And we even will accept their statements when they do not give the reference of their sources of information. We just accept their unverified comment as the final truth. No one has proven it to us that there is water on Mars either, but does that rule out the possibility that there is? Would we change our thinking about no water on Mars if some studies showed that there seems to be water? Studies have shown a connection between women wearing bras and women having a higher risk of breast cancer. Should we not look further into that possibility?
In 1982 the Superintendent of Instruction of my school district (the sixth largest in the State of California and is next door to Silicon Valley) twice publicly made the statement that he "...didn't really want to get involved in 'computer instruction'' as it was only a "passing fad". Thank goodness our students' parents elected not to accept his 'unverified comment' (we went beyond him and taught computer programming and applications beginning in 1983).
Other studies than the BBC Study and the Fiji Study have been done that suggest similar conclusions, especially regarding the other (besides breast cancer) health dangers of using a bra for longer periods of time. And more doctors are giving this "radical concept" more thought, beginning to question the connection between wearing the bra and poor breast health. Thousands of women are learning what cyst-free, pain-free breasts are about when they reduce their use of their bras.
But there are some very "important" personalities and organizations and industries out there that carry a lot of 'weight' when it comes to influencing our thoughts. And why is that? Because they have been around for a long time? Because they do things that look good in the media? Perhaps we need to look a little deeper into some of these claims.
My daddy used to suggest to me that when I wanted to know the real truth I should 'follow the dollar'. When a politician has a new idea about a project, I usually wonder who will gain financially from that project or law, if it is approved? When a new Proposition is on the ballot, I generally ask who is paying for the millions of dollars for all of those commercial ads trying to convince us one way or the other in our voting on that proposition? Who will lose a lot of money if it is passed on election day? Or not? Can you believe everything you hear from someone that stands to gain money from you if you choose to agree with him or her... or them?
So, who would financially gain from whether or not you wear a bra? Well, I have been told that world wide, just the sales of bras alone brings the lingerie industry sixteen billion dollars per year (that's $16,000,000,000.00 each year!)3. Does that suggest a possibility that a company that makes bras could stand to make a financial gain if they can get you to buy more bras? Or lose a lot of money if you stopped buying them? You do know that the bra did not exist a century ago, right? And yes, I do know that a large-breasted lady has usually become very dependant upon wearing one, but that too is something we can address at another time.
"But what about the large organizations that wear "Cancer" as one of their names? Aren't they looking out for our health and welfare?" I'm sure some of them are, but what about the one that is telling you that there is no connection between wearing a bra and breast cancer? Have they done a study to find out if there really is a connection? If not, do they quote any study that has shown there is no connection? Or are they merely telling us that "they have not seen any studies showing that it 'does cause cancer'?" I have not found even one of those organizations that has done a study to disprove the idea, nor can they find even one study that has been done from which they can quote any factual information. All they tell us is that "There is no study that says the bra will cause a problem..." They will not tell us "We have done studies that prove that the bra does not increase a risk of breast cancer." That is because there has not been any of those studies done. Not one. None. Zero. Essentially they tell you to not believe what you are hearing from others, but they cannot tell you about anyone who has proven what you are hearing from others to be untrue!
But what about "follow the dollar"? Ask your representative of the organization that is asking for your hard-earned dollars in a donation how much income they receive from the lingerie industry. Ask them to show you their annual report that describes from where their income is derived. If the lingerie industry feels certain research may affect their 'bottom line', will they suggest the conclusions of that research be down-played or rejected? We know that has happened and continues to happen. This is big business that we are talking about here. Ask how many paid employees are on the staff of your favorite "volunteer organization"? That organization is a 'business' as well. What percentage of your dollar that you give to them will ever go toward actual, unbiased breast cancer research?
So, what do you do? Will wearing the bra increase your risks for breast cancer? You can actually do either (or both) of two things:
It is only after years of not wearing the bra that you would ever be able to totally prove to yourself that it helped you to avoid the wrath of breast cancer. And breast cancer can be caused by other things besides a tight bra, but those risks are minimal compared to the damage done by the bra. We cannot ignore the research done by Grismaijer and Singer, who studied those women that showed after many years of wearing a bra that their incidence rate was much higher than their 'sisters' that did not wear them at all, or wore them for a shorter period of time. We cannot ignore that, no matter what anyone or any group may tell us.
And do not ignore the fact that when a researcher finds something that goes against a large industry's future income, that researcher is not going to be welcomed into that industry's board rooms with open arms. Where money is concerned, things can become very unfriendly. Any study showing negative health effects caused by a product becomes serious negative advertising against the producers of that product, and there are many producers of bras.
What do you have to lose? Indeed. You will be the one to lose the most in this whole process, no matter what anyone else may tell you, so you are the one to make the decision. What do Grismaijer and Singer have to gain? Yes, they sell books, but their message is clear: reduce the hours you wear your bra! You don't need to buy their book to get that message. The whole message of the book is clearly out there for you to see. You already have their message. It would only be helpful for you to buy the book if you need further convincing. Look for their new second edition that included new international studies that support what they learned in their Bra and Breast Cancer Study.
Are these medical anthropologists telling you that the only reason for breast cancer is the wearing of the bra? No! They are suggesting that wearing the bra is a very large influence, and that there should be more research done on it. I am suggesting that you may not want to wait until that research is done (if it will ever be done) and the 'unbiased' results are reported. Your breasts and your life are much more important than that to you. And to your loved ones.
You may ask what is in this for me. Why do I bother with this? Follow the dollar, right? My wife is a two-time breast cancer survivor (different breast, different type of breast cancer, ten years apart) and I was teaching Health & Sex Education classes at the time she was diagnosed. So I decided that I needed to know much more than I did about breast cancer. When I became more knowledgeable about it I created this website. You will notice that there is no advertising and there are no sponsors on this site. This site is entirely self-sufficient and we have no other compensation than knowing someone will learn something that will help them.
When I was teaching and my sex ed students would ask me "Mr. Smith, what is your opinion about _____?" (and it was usually about something rather controversial in their young lives), my answer to them was "It is not important what MY opinion is. If I told you, and you like me, you would agree with me and if you didn't like me then you would choose the alternative, and that may be a serious mistake for you. I am only here to offer to you all of the knowledge about the subject that I can offer to you and then you should take that and add what you learn from your parents and your clergy and your friends and the media and the internet and even your doctor... then you will make your own decisions." I now say the same thing to you. Look deeply into this subject and find the correct answer for you. Write to me if you wish to ask questions. I can only share what my experiences are, as well as my observations of the experience others have shared with me. And you can contact Singer and Grismaijer through their website.
Differentiate between fact and opinion. Accept only data that has a reliable source. You should question 'opinions' as many of them are literally bought and paid for. You will be the only one that will gain... or lose... as a result of your decision. Trust only in your intelligence and your good logic. And so I say to you, learn all that you can about this subject, and question your sources and their motives and positions, and then decide what you will do. Because you will be the one that will gain from that knowledge and action. Hopefully you will make the right decision.
1. Grismaijer, Soma and Singer, Sydney Ross. "Dressed To Kill - The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras", Avery Publishing Group, Garden City Park, New York, Copyright 1995, p. 126.
2. Grismaijer, Soma and Singer, Sydney Ross. "GET IT OFF! Understanding the cause of..... BREAST PAIN, CYSTS, and CANCER", ISCD PRESS, P.O. Box 1880 Pahoa, Hawai'i 96778, Copyright 2000, p. 93.
3. "Victoria's Secrets: 6 Surprising Bra Stats". Redbook. Magazine. http://www.redbookmag.com/beauty-fashion/tips-advice/fun-bra-facts. Retrieved 8 February 2012.