Bra Use and Breast Cancer: Is There Really a Link?

bras and breast cancer

Can wearing a bra lead to the development of breast cancer? The topic is highly controversial but worth the attention (especially if it’s true).

I recently read an article criticizing claims made by wellness influencer Nikisha Brunson, who says that wearing a bra can lead to breast cancer. According to her and her tentatively-linked scientific sources, bras constrict the breasts and can cause lymph valves and vessels to close, which means less oxygen and fewer nutrients delivered to the cells. In effect, waste products are not flushed away and hence, as Nikisha suggests, breast cancer can form.

The more I read about the issue, the clearer it is that her statements aren’t so well received, with most shunning the guru-cum-oncologist’s outlandish ideas. However, I remained skeptical of the criticism. While reading more about Nikisha had to say, it intuitively felt right and physically probable. But, I’m no expert, so I researched a little deeper to add some bulk to my hunch.

In the end, there is no all-conclusive result to the whole bra debacle, but even when you can’t decisively say Nikisha is right, she most certainly isn’t wrong.

Bra Use and Vanity

In a 15-year study led by French sport science research Jean-Denis Rouillon, 330 women aged 18 to 35 were observed. Their breasts were measured with a slide ruler and a caliper. The researchers noticed that women who did not wear bras had a 7-millimeter lift as measured from their nipples each year. Their breasts were also firmer and their stretch marks had faded. Also, wearing a bra did not seem to help with back pain associated with breasts. The researchers believe that wearing a bra prevented the growth of breast tissue, which leads to the deterioration of muscles that support breasts. By not wearing a bra, the muscles get to exercise more, hence the lift.

This study suggests a few things: that wearing a bra neither helps to achieve the vanity perks – perky boobs – nor to reduce back pain. It also brings into light the active nature of breasts prevented from doing so with constant bra support. However, the study is also limited in its implications. It restricts its findings to women under the age of 35, which means its results cannot be broadly applied to the entire population of women. It is also the first study of its kind and is more of preliminary source that calls into question bra use without debunking their necessity altogether.

Bras and Cancer

Turns out, no one seems to know. At least, there is no conclusive study that says whether there is or isn’t a connection. One study suggests that cancer is less common among women who do not wear bras, but the study itself wasn’t designed well enough to draw a definitive conclusion. Many factors could have been at play, including breast size and obesity, which could have influenced the results.

When it comes to the development of breast cancer, there’s no clean-cut culprit — diet, weight, exercise, breastfeeding, pregnancy, age of first menstruation, and genetics all play roles in its development. But, what if bra use is also a factor for all, or just some, women? What if it is a concern? Instead of using the lack of research as grounds to defend the bra, what if we kept the garment in question until we have all the facts? Until then, all justifications of them being safe are, too, just assumptions.

Bra Use: The Takeaway

I, for one, won’t stop wearing bras, but I will start to wear them less when I am by myself at home or wearing a thick sweater in which no one would be able to tell whether I have one on or not. Nikisha has sparked an idea my intuition has already contemplated. When I wear a bra, I feel constricted – it affects my breathing patterns and the extent of motion for my upper body. That must have implications, if only a few measly ones that are unrelated to cancer. Until I know for sure whether wearing a bra and cancer are linked, I’ll keep conscious of my bra-wearing ways and at least, hopefully, benefit from the purported perkier side effects.

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Fastening a Bra image from Shutterstock