The Truth Behind Whether Or Not Bras Cause Cancer

For many women, wearing a bra is an all day, every day thing. Us ladies don't really think twice before slipping one on in the morning, mostly because we're raised to think they're necessary for comfort, for support, and to prevent sagging. But according to social media star Nikisha Brunson's viral video linking bras to breast cancer, our go-to lingerie might be doing more harm than good.

In her recent Facebook post, Brunson cited medical anthropologist Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer's "Bra & Breast Cancer" study, which is the topic of their book Dressed To Kill. The husband and wife team focused their 1991-1993 research on narrowing down the cause of breast cancer. After interviewing 4,000 women ages 30 to 79 in five American cities, they believed they found a connection between bra wearing and higher breast cancer rates.

According to the study, the bra/breast cancer link is due to lymphatic drainage — or, rather, lack thereof. "Soma [and] Syd Singer found because lymphatic vessels [in the breasts] are very thin, they are extremely sensitive to pressure [and] are easily compressed," Brunson wrote in her post. "Chronic minimal pressure on the breasts can cause lymph valves [and] vessels to close. Less oxygen [and] fewer nutrients are delivered to the cells, while waste products are not flushed away. After 15 [to] 20 years of bra-constricted lymph drainage, cancer can result."

This is some startling news for those of us currently strutting around in our sports bras and push-ups. And it's why Brunson proclaims that living bra-free is the way to go. But the idea of walking around sans support has many people up in arms — especially since the subject of cancer is involved. One look at Brunson's Facebook comments shows that many people are quick to point out that the Singer's research is flawed, or that other studies show no cancer link. In an email to Bustle, even Sydney Singer himself suggests women shouldn't let one study sway them in one direction or the other. "Science does not work that way," he says.

Dr. Elizabeth Vaughan, MD, of Vaughan Integrative Medicine in Greensboro, NC, is a proponent of a more holistic approach to health. She believes the video does have a lot of truth to it. "I think there is a connection," Dr. Vaughan tells me. "The more hours a day a woman wears a bra the higher her risk."

Vaughan points towards high estrogen levels including xenoestrogens (environmental estrogens) and natural woman-made estrogens as the main culprit, saying that higher levels of estrogen in the breast — due to bra constriction and improper lymph drainage — can lead to lumps and bumps. While many lumps can simply be a sign of fibrocystic breasts, Vaughan says these lumps can also be a red flag for cancer. "If you get a woman out of her bra, her breasts will get healthier," Vaughan continues. "I’m not saying it will reverse cancer ... but you can get the rest of their breasts healthier and can reduce the risk to another portion of their breasts if you can get them out of their bra."

Health expert Ashley Black isn't a cancer specialist but a leading physical therapist, and she doesn't fully agree with the whole lymphatic thing. "I think it is correct in saying that toxins trapped in the body can become cancer but incorrect that it is certainly not isolated to the lymphatic system, and that the main culprit in all likelihood is in fact the fascia," she tells me. (Fascia is the connective tissue under the skin.) "I believe that all cancers including breast cancer could be prevented, not by taking off your bra, but by addressing the fascia system so that the lymphatic system, the blood system, the nervous system, the muscular system and all the other systems that fascia interfaces with could function properly," she adds.

Black went on to tell me that massage may help address this constriction. "I recommend massaging the areas all around the breast and where the fascia lines run through the breast to flush out toxins and increase blood flow," she says.

While it makes a lot of sense that constricting your breasts might cause a problem, there are doctors who are still holding out for a more scientific study. "It doesn’t appear that [the Singer study] was done in the normal scientific way," says Yvonne Bohn, MD, OB/GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. "There are so many different factors. You would have to do a study where everyone is the same [cup] size, has the same exposure to other things, family history, etc." Bohn also tells me that there are other factors that can influence breast cancer, such as a woman's weight or her alcohol consumption. "It's very difficult to keep out any bias," she says. And it's why many medical doctors and scientists are quick to say the study isn't legit.

It's also why Bohn says women shouldn't jump to conclusions. "Studies may suggest a link, but when talking to experts they have conflicting opinions on whether this [connection] is real or not," she says. "Research is always being done. People are always trying to find the cause of cancer. Be open-minded but be skeptical as to where you find your information."

Which leads me to the whole breast sagging issue. Is it true that wearing a bra weakens the breasts, and can lead to sagging over time? Vaughan says yes, and points to bras and their sneaky way of weakening the breast's ligaments. "Think how weak your arm gets if you break your wrist and you put it in a sling," she says. "Same thing happens to the ligaments in your breast."

By not wearing a bra, Vaughan says that eventually the breast's ligaments will strengthen. It will take about two to three weeks of adjustment (and possibly quite a bit longer for women with larger breasts). But eventually they will become pain-free. "Once you get through that pain you will not ever want to put on a bra on again," Vaughan says.

However, Bohn tells me she doesn't see a connection. "Wearing one or not wearing one doesn’t impact whether your breasts are saggy or not," she says, telling me that breast sagginess has more to do with weight gain and breastfeeding than anything else.

However, what all the doctors agree on is this: Take your bra off when you get home. Vaughan tells me this is healthier for the breasts than wearing one 24/7, and Bohn says it's a good idea for comfort reasons.

As for going bra-free the rest of the day? Well, that's totally up to you. We might not have a yes or no answer about bras connection to cancer, but Brunson's video is still important in that it has started a conversation about something most us do without thinking. So do whatever feels best for you. "Wearing a bra or not wearing a bra is a personal choice," Bohn says. "If it makes you nervous, then don’t wear it."

Images: Nikisha Brunson/Instagram