At some point, you may have heard that there’s a link between wearing bras and developing breast cancer—is there any way to tweak your bra-shopping habits to somehow prevent the illness? Nope, you can rest easy and enjoy gorgeous lingerie as much as you like.Breast cancer is a scary disease, so it’s natural that you’d want to do what you can to lower your risk of developing it.
Here’s where the bras-may-cause-breast-cancer concept came from: A study conducted in the European Journal of Cancer in 1991 found that premenopausal women who did not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with women who wore bras. Therese B. Bevers, M.D., professor of Clinical Cancer Prevention and the medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center and prevention outreach programs at MD Anderson Cancer Center, tells SELF.that the study “didn’t take into account a woman’s body weight—is she obese or overweight?” “Women who are obese and overweight often have larger breasts and are less likely to go braless. If you don’t take into obesity and control for that, it will look like the bras are causing the cancer.”
One theory behind the rumor, which has been debunked the American Cancer Society, says that wearing a bra for the whole day compresses the lymphatic system of the breast, “resulting in accumulation of toxins that cause breast cancer”—which Sanati says doesn’t make sense. “Most of the breast cancers happen in the outer, upper quadrant of the breast, which has good drainage overall,” he says. “If there was a true association, we’d see more cancers in the bra region.”
Michael Kane, M.D., director of community oncology for New Jersey’s Newton and Chilton Medical Centers, stresses to SELF that there is “no proven link” between wearing bras and your breast cancer risk. “However, we have very well-defined and proven risk factors for breast cancer,” he points out.
However,more recent research hasn’t found any association between bras and breast cancer. A study of 1,500 women published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in 2014 found that there was no connection between the two.“There’s really no direct association between wearing bras and breast cancer,” Homayoon Sanati, M.D., medical director of the MemorialCare Breast Center at California’s Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, tells SELF. For the study, researchers asked women a ton of questions about their lingerie, including their cup size, how many hours a day they wore bras, how often they wore underwire bras, and how old they were when they started wearing a bra, and found no link between bras—underwire or otherwise—and breast cancer.
Those include having certain mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, a family history of cancer, getting your period early and going through menopause late, being inactive, being overweight, and having dense breasts. “Wearing a bra has not been found to be one of them,” Kane says.
So, if you want to do what you can to lower the odds you’ll develop breast cancer, experts recommend eating well, staying active, doing regular self breast exams, knowing your personal risk, and being screened appropriately. As for your bra…go ahead and keep on wearing it if that’s what makes you comfortable.