Ladies, that swath of fabric snapped around your rib cage is not a death trap. A new study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that among 1,500 women, there was no association between bra wearing and breast-cancer risk.
The study authors asked women with and without breast cancer nearly every conceivable question about their lingerie — cup size, how many hours they wore their bras per day, how many of their bras contained underwire, how old they were when they started wearing a bra — and found that none of the factors were associated with cancer.
Why would anyone think the intimates might be connected to tumors in the first place? For that we can thank the very first study on the subject done in 1991 (which makes this just the second). That analysis found that women who didn’t wear bras had a lower risk of breast cancer. The authors were quick to attribute that to more obvious, well-established risk factors like obesity. Thinner women with smaller breasts, after all, are those most likely to go braless.
But somehow the myth spread. On its website, the American Cancer Society (ACS) traces it back to an obscure book called Dressed to Kill. ACS wholly dismisses the book, stating that there are no scientifically valid studies demonstrating that wearing a bra causes any kind of breast cancer. And in the new paper, study author Lu Chen dismisses the false notion that bras impede lymph circulation and drainage, trapping toxins in your breasts that can trigger tumors.
Still, Chen says, undergarments may be an easy target because some people grapple with explaining why breast-cancer rates are higher in the U.S. than in developing countries. “They think one reason breast cancer is more common in developed countries is due to the differences in bra-wearing patterns,” she says — even though far more likely risk factors, like a lack of physical activity and being overweight, not to mention exposure to carcinogens, are more likely to blame.
The rumors clearly aren’t bothering the vast majority of bra wearers. Of the 1,500 women Chen studied, more than 75% wore a bra for at least eight hours per day. And only one woman — who had to be excluded from the analysis because she had no peers — had never worn a bra.