Bras or No Bras for Breast Health?

September 10, 2014

Just in case your patients ever ask, wearing a bra is in no way associated with breast cancer risk.

Women don’t need to remove their bras to improve breast health, say researchers, who have discredited concerns floating around the lay press that the supportive undergarment was linked to breast cancer.

By conducting a bra-wearing survey among postmenopausal women diagnosed with one of the two most common types of breast cancer-invasive ductal carcinoma and invasive lobular carcinoma-researchers sought to investigate if going braless would reduce the risk of breast cancer. The answer was a resounding no.

In case it's been keeping you up at night . . .

- There is no link between wearing a bra and histological types of postmenopausal breast cancer.

"The risk was similar no matter how many hours per day women wore a bra, whether they wore a bra with an underwire, or at what age they first began wearing a bra," said Lu Chen, MPH, a researcher in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

The study compared 454 women with invasive ductal carcinoma and 590 women with invasive lobular carcinoma with 469 women who did not have a cancer diagnosis. All the cancer cases were diagnosed between 2000 and 2004, and all the women were between 55 to 74 years of age.

Researchers asked each participant a series of questions related to their bra-wearing habits. In-person questions included cup size, average number of hours and days a bra was worn, underwire presence, and age when she first started donning the common undergarment.

Chen said her study should allow patients to rest easy knowing that wearing a bra does not appear to increase the risk for the most common histological types of postmenopausal breast cancer. And for physicians addressing patient’s concerns, the study, published in the American Association for Cancer Research’s journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, provides scientific evidence to help guide those discussions.

"There has been some suggestion in the lay media that bra wearing may be a risk factor for breast cancer,” Chen explained. “Some have hypothesized that drainage of waste products in and around the breast may be hampered by bra wearing. Given very limited biological evidence supporting such a link between bra wearing and breast cancer risk, our results were not surprising.”

Now, whether or not wearing a bra will keep breasts from sagging is a story for another day.