I’ve been working with so many women with breast cancer these days that I just had to discuss a very important topic that I became aware of when I was struggling with painful and cystic breasts about 10 years ago.
Body issues were a big thing with my mom. Especially weight and breast size.
Her mother wore a size double D cup bra and used to say to my mother before she developed breasts that she hated small breasted women. So what do you think happened?
Yup! You guessed it, when my mother developed breasts, they were on the small side! Hmmm. Perhaps not the most enlightened parenting strategy on my grandmother’s part. It certainly made my mother feel bad and the only thing that prevented her from getting breasts implants was that breast cancer ran in the family, so she was too afraid.
Well my mom saw what her mother did and tried to make sure that my sister and I didn’t get the same message, so she waited until we were older and only made small comments like “when I die (the implication was that it was going to be from breast cancer-just like her mother), your father is going to get re-married to a busty blond.”
Just a Little “Lift”
Then she put me in the category with her, because my sister ended up with breasts almost my grandmother’s size and mine were more like my mom’s. So her way of trying to make me feel better was through camaraderie: “We’re in this together, Karen. But, you can do something about it. Just wear a nice bra and put a little padding in it, to give yourself a little ‘lift’.”
The Pain Begins
So after years of pushback, at a certain point, I caved. My mother took me shopping and I started wearing padded under-wire bras. After about a year, I started getting very bad breast pain and felt a number of cyst-like nodules on my breasts. It was very scary. I made an appointment with a gynecologist and she suggested that I get a mammogram. So I did. That is an experience that I decided not to repeat– I felt as if I had made matters worse. The results from the mammogram were that there was no cancer, but I had a lot of cysts and needed to come back soon for another mammogram to check it out.
The Link Between Bras, Cysts, and Breast Cancer
I decided to do my own research, sought out other solutions and stopped wearing a bra. After a short time without wearing a bra, the pain and the cysts went away. A year later, I took my first BodyTalk class and learned a whole bunch of eye-opening information about the correlation between bras, cysts, and breast cancer.
Here’s a summary of what I discovered:
- Research suggests that wearing a bra greatly increases your risk of developing breast cancer
- A ground breaking study of 5000 women, by Singer and Grismaijer, revealed that 3 out of 4 women who wear a bra developed breast cancer, compared to only one out of 168 women who rarely or never wore a bra.
Women who wear a bra 24 hours a day are 125 times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who don’t wear a bra at all. Women who wear a bra even 12 hours a day are 113 times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who wear their bra less than 12 hours a day. Singer and Girsmajier published the results of this study in more depth in their book, Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras, a book all women should read. (Now, this is not my study and I have no proof that what they are saying is true, but based on my personal experience and as a practitioner I feel that even though these numbers seem high, there seems to be some validity to the claims)
- Wearing a bra causes a slight increase in the temperature of breast tissue and the levels of the hormone prolactin. Both of which may contribute to breast cancer.
- Singer and Grismaijer also found that 90% of women who have fibrocystic breast disease find relief by not wearing a bra. Restriction caused by bra-wearing impedes lymph flow in the breast areas and causes lymph fluid to create to lumps, cysts and fibrous tissue.
- Wearing a bra has been found to decrease the production of melatonin and increases the basal temperature of the body. Melatonin regulates sleep and affects aging, immune function and slows the growth of breast cancer and other cancers.
- According to these studies, the correlation between breast cancer and bras is 4 times higher than the correlation between smoking and lung cancer.
- Wearing a bra while breastfeeding can cause breast engorgement and sore breasts.
- In cultures where bra wearing is rare, so is breast cancer.
- Bra wearing restricts the circulatory system from distributing vital nutrients.
Do Your Research
You may be thinking– who is this crazy person telling me not to wear a bra!? Well, first of all, let’s be clear, I’m not telling you not to wear a bra, but simply suggesting that if you haven’t done any research on the matter, you may want to consider it, and also consider what kind of bra you wear, if you choose to or feel you have to wear one. (And guys, if you’re still reading, this information is important for you to know, too. The women in your life will appreciate you being educated about this.)
Bras with under-wire have been found to be significantly more dangerous than bras without (see links below for details). If you feel you have to wear a bra with under-wire, you can replace the metal with plastic. That has been found to be less harmful. Bras made from synthetic fibers like nylon and polyester also restrict energy flow, so you could look for bras made from cotton, rayon, bamboo or other natural fibers. There are also energetic Qigong exercises you can do to improve the energy flow in the breast. I plan to put together a video on that soon, which I’ll post on my blog.
I know it may be challenging (especially for larger-breasted women) to find alternatives, but they do exist and it’s worth checking them out. Even Amazon.com has some no wire cotton bra options.
What other experts say about bras
Dr. Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, writes “Stop wearing an underwire bra.” Too often this kind of bra cuts off circulation of both blood and lymph fluid around the breast, chest wall, and surrounding tissue. She goes on to say how important it is to “learn about your breasts” “Understand your breasts’ anatomy… Gently massage your breasts at least once per month, making sure to sweep your hands up into your armpits (where the lymph nodes from the breasts drain). You might consult with a massage therapist for help in learning how to do this.”
Dr. Jesse Hanley, M.D., in her book: What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause, encourages her patients not to wear underwire bras or even tight bras, except for special occasions because they block the lymph glands under the arms, around the breast and chest wall. “Lymph glands play an important role in draining toxins from the breast.”
In an article on bras and breast cancer, Dr. Ralph Reed says, “Just for an interesting experiment, the next time you walk down the street, notice visually how constricting bras are. On many women you can actually see “dents” around the sides of their chests where there bras are, even in something as opaque as a black t-shirt.
A physical therapist friend of mine, after reading Dressed to Kill, said that she was amazed at what she saw in her practice at a local medical clinic. She noticed how many women have red creases and grooves on their bodies caused by their bras. Singer and Grismaijer also suggest that you simply stop wearing one for two weeks and see how you feel.”
Here’s a few other links to check out on the subject:
Why Wear Bras
Bras and Breast Cancer
Fibrocystic Disease and Bras
Nina L. Diamond in her book Purify Your Body: Natural Remedies for Detoxing from 50 Everyday Situations recommends:
- If you’re going to wear a bra, wear the correct bra size. Make sure it’s not too tight.
- Never sleep with a bra on.
- Go braless as often as possible.
- Wear a bra less than 12 hours daily.
- Do self massage of the lymph glands under each arm, next to your breasts, at least a few times a week.
So, I’m not saying that you have to go and burn your bra, but at the very least, it’s worth reading some of the above material and looking into some options for healthier breast support.
Please feel free to share your own stories or resources here, as well. 🙂