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Can Wearing a Bra Cause Breast Cancer?

One of the most pervasive (and false) myths surrounding wearing a bra is that wearing a bra can cause cancer.

The simple truth is that there is no link between breast cancer and wearing a bra.

Every story and article that attributes increased breast cancer rates to wearing bras mentions a Harvard study and a book called “Dressed to Kill” written in 1995. The medical community has reviewed the claims in “Dressed to Kill and determined that there is no medical merit in the book.

Dismissal in the Medical Community
The National Cancer Institute specifically states that bras have not been shown to increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. The American Cancer Society states that “There are no scientifically valid studies that show wearing bras of any type causes breast cancer.” The U.S. National Institutes of Health states that breast implants, wearing deodorant and wearing underwire bras does not raise your risk for breast cancer. And finally, Breastcancer.org, a national resource for women who want to learn about breast cancer, specifically states that wearing a bra all the time does not cause cancer.

If the four major medical organizations in the United States that monitor and reports information about cancer say that wearing a bra doesn’t cause breast cancer, who do you believe: a couple of random people or these large, informed organizations with valid resources and real data?

The Infamous “Harvard Study”
The authors of the book “Dressed to Kill” (and many of the people who have written articles stating the affirmative view) cite a “Harvard study” to lend themselves credibility. The Harvard study referred to was published in 1991 in a European journal. The research in this journal was not at all focused on a link between wearing a bra and breast cancer.

The correlation that the authors of the book “Dressed to Kill” seized upon was the fact that women in Fiji reported lower rates of breast cancer than woman in the United States. The authors of “Dressed to Kill” attributed this to the fact that fewer women in Fiji wear bras. This is a baseless correlation that completely ignores the more relevant facts; that women in Fiji aren’t exposed to the same environmental elements that women in urban areas in the United States encounter on a daily basis, and other contributing factors. The scientists who conducted the study did not make this correlation. The only people to make this correlation were the authors of the book.

The Authors of “Dressed to Kill”
The authors of the book “Dressed to Kill” that has been cited in countless articles toting a link between cancer and wearing bras are in no way trained medical professionals. It’s a married couple; the husband is an anthropologist who dropped out of medical school, and the wife holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and planning, and is trained as an optician, although she does not hold a state license to practice. They characterize themselves as “medical anthropologists,” but the reality is that neither of them has the background or training to support their conclusions from the book.

Every article you find that claims there’s a link between breast cancer and wearing a bra either cites this book or this “Harvard study.” This is a prime example of how baseless accusations can take off and become popular myth and legend.

The next time someone asks you: “Can wearing a bra cause cancer?” Give them a resounding: “No!” And then tell them the truth about this study, these authors and this baseless myth.

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