Breast cancer is a complicated disease. It seems like there’s a new cause every day, from deodorants to cosmetics. And then, there’s the myth that wearing a bra causes breast cancer. Rumor has it that underwire bras block the drainage of lymph fluid from under the breast. This means that it can’t get back into your body, therefore making it easy to develop cancer.
If you’re a woman, this myth might get you worried. Bras are a standard undergarment, and they’re needed for support and privacy. But does wearing a bra really cause breast cancer? Absolutely not. Here’s why it has nothing to do with these five risk factors of the disease.
5 Risk Factors of Breast Cancer
Compared to men, women are much more likely to wear bras. However, a female being at a high risk for breast cancer is more about her gender, the biggest risk factor.
Women make up more than 99 percent of breast cancer cases. Men, on the other hand, make up less than 1 percent. They have low levels of estrogen, and their breast cells are inactive. Meanwhile, the breast cells in women are extremely sensitive to hormones like estrogen, placing them at a higher risk for breast cancer.1
Puberty is the only time that bras are linked to a woman’s age. After a growth spurt, she needs to start wearing a bra. This typically happens between the ages of 15 and 17.
Age is a risk factor for breast cancer – but not until you’re older. The aging process makes your body more susceptible to genetic damage.
According to the National Cancer Institute, 1 in 68 women will be diagnosed at age 40. This statistic rises to 1 in 42 at age 50, and 1 in 28 at age 60. The hormonal changes after menopause play a huge part.2
3. Family History
Having a strong family history of breast cancer is also unrelated to wearing bras. The risk doubles if you have one first-degree female relative – like a sister, mother, or daughter – with breast cancer. And if you have two diagnosed first-degree relatives? The risk is five times more than average.
Sure, maybe your mother or older sister helped you pick out your first bra. But this doesn’t affect your risk. It’s more about sharing abnormal genes, like the BRCA1, BRCA2, or CHEK2.3
Pregnancy impacts your risk for breast cancer. And when you’re pregnant, you’ll need maternity bras with better support. These versions have underwire just like normal bras.
However, pregnancy’s link to breast cancer doesn’t have to do with bras. Being pregnant helps your breast cells fully mature, which protects you from breast cancer. They’re less susceptible to estrogen and other hormonal changes.4
5. Being Overweight Or Obese
Breast cancer is more common in women who are overweight or obese. There’s also a good chance that the bra myth stemmed from this factor. Fat cells make estrogen. So if you have extra fat, you’ll have a higher risk for estrogen-sensitive breast cancers. The risk is even greater if the fat is around the belly.
Overweight and obese women often have bigger breasts. So, they’ll have a bigger need for underwire bras. On the other hand, women of healthy weight may wear bras less often.
This explains why the bra and breast cancer link lives on.
The bottom line? Wearing bras do not cause breast cancer. Focus on the above risks and take care of yourself. Avoid smoking, limit alcohol intake, and eat well. It’ll have a bigger impact than going braless!