I received a forwarded e-mail about a study that links breast cancer with prolonged wearing of bra. My antennae went up immediately. But since I’m not in the habit of re-forwarding forwarded information without doing my own sluething, I did a background check. It appears that there is a book called Dressed to Kill: The link between breast cancer and bras by medical anthropologists Soma Grismaijer and Sydney Ross Singer. I haven’t read the book. A Dr. Ralph L. Reed (Ph.D in biochemistry) was quoted in a website with the following summary:
In January 1996, I discovered the book by Singer and Grismaijer and their explanation of impaired lymphatic flow intrigued me. I have since read everything that I can find on lymphatic flow… In essence, what Singer and Grismaijer found was that the odds of getting breast cancer dramatically increased with bra-wearing over 12 hours per day.
Women who wore their bras 24 hours per day had a 3 out of 4 chance of developing breast cancer (in their study, n=2056 for the cancer group and n=2674 for the standard group).
Women who wore bras more than 12 hour per day but not to bed had a 1 out of 7 risk.
Women who wore their bras less than 12 hours per day had a 1 out of 152 risk.
Women who wore bras rarely or never had a 1 out of 168 chance of getting breast cancer. The overall difference between 24 hour wearing and not at all was a 125-fold difference.
From the editorial review of the Amazon staff:
Singer and Grismaijer have collected striking (but preliminary) evidence that bra-wearing may be a major risk factor associated with breast cancer: women who wear tight-fitting bras 24 hours a day are 125 times more likely to have breast cancer than women who do not wear bras at all. Their interpretation is that tight clothing inhibits the proper functioning of the lymphatic system (an internal network of vessels and nodes that flushes wastes from the body) and leads to a buildup of carcinogenic compounds in the constricted areas.
The American Cancer Society is dismissive.
Whether you believe the book or you take the attitude of the American Cancer Society, the bottom line is that most women all over the world wear bras. The question is why. For health? Hardly. Historically, bras were worn for the same reasons that corsets were worn. Two reasons:
1. To cover the breasts; and
2. To restrain the shape and movement of the breasts, either to:
a. Push up the breasts and prevent them from sagging; or
b. Reshape the breasts to make them rounder and fuller.
The first reason implies that there is something wrong about showing a woman’s breasts (note that there was a time when it was considered improper for a woman to show her ankles). A culture issue, definitely, and hardly a universal standard as there are cultures where women go completely topless every single day.
The second reason is more controversial — a mixture of vanity, fashion, eroticism and, according to hardcore feminists, the pressure to reform a woman’s body in accordance with what men find sexually desirable.
The truth is, most men have a fixation with women’s breasts. Whether it is a form of Oedipus complex, a carry over from the days when their mothers breastfed them, I am not sure. I do know, however, that most men look differently at women with “nice” breasts. And many women make an effort to fit the mental image of a desirable woman with breasts that command a second glance. The question is — to what extent? To the extent of bearing the discomfort of underwired bras for over 12 hours a day just to look sexy at work? And if Singer and Grismaijer are really on to something, to the extent of risking breast cancer?
I wear bras but only when I go out. In the house, no. When I sleep, never, unless I’m too drunk to take it off. In the tropical heat, I find bras stifling. But, sadly, I am still a slave to the culture I was raised in with the belief that breasts ought to be covered. So I wear a bra when I go out. If only not to appear scandalous in a culture that believes breasts ought to be covered yet, ironically, a culture where both men and women go gaga over pushed up and reshaped breasts that peak under low cut decolletage. If I were to migrate to some Polynesian island where going topless is a way of life, I’d burn every bra I own with no second thoughts.