Your lingerie and your health

December 24, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

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Lingerie is probably on almost every woman’s Christmas wish list. Next to jewellery, it’s a popular (and affordable) gift from men to the women they love. The brassiere or short for bra is especially an important part of a woman’s lingerie collection. In recent years, there have been rumors floating around about health risks associated with bras. Let’s see the latest updates.


Certain chemicals are sometimes added to textiles for a number of reasons, including protection from moths, mildew and color loss. In November this year, the lingerie company Victoria’s Secret was sued by several women who developed rashes and other skin problems upon wearing a certain model of bra. The litigants claim that lab tests detected trace amounts of formaldehyde in the bras, a chemical used in fabrics to make them crease-resistant. It is well-known that some people are allergic to formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is also classified as a probable carcinogen.

Wrong fit

Some experts claim that ill-fitting bras can cause breast cancer. The book Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras was written by 2 medical anthropologists and mentions a study showing that women who do not wear bras have a reduced risk of having breast cancer. Others claim that wrongly fitting bras can cause breast lumps that are benign but may nevertheless be painful

Metal wires

There are also medical professionals who believe that metal wires in the bra “can form an antenna attracting electromagnetic fields, which can also increase your risk of breast cancer.”

Facts or Myths?

I searched through the PubMed database for medical studies that linked bras and their use to breast cancer but I couldn’t find anything.

I found however a statement from the National Research Center for Women & Families about this issue. Here is what they have to say:

“It is not clear how the story about bras causing breast cancer got started. One piece of ‘evidence’ that is often mentioned is the fact that breast cancer is more common in Western cultures – where women started wearing bras in the 1920’s – than in parts of the world where bras are not typically worn. While it is true that there are geographic variations in breast cancer rates, there are many, many factors – including diet, exercise, lifestyle, childbearing practices, and others – that are more plausible explanations for these differences than bras. In places where people have less access to medical care, breast cancer will not be diagnosed as often, even though it might be present. And because the risk of breast cancer increases as women get older, breast cancer rates will be lower in parts of the world where people die of other causes at younger ages, whether they have worn bras or not.”

Therapeutic benefits of bra

There are however, documented health benefits from wearing properly fitting bras, namely:

  • Wearing a properly fitting bra reduced the need for breast reduction surgery, according to UK’s Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead. A bra of the correct size helps in the management of large breasts and reduces the back pain that comes with them.

To date, 100% of those fitted have been wearing the wrong size, overestimating the width of their back and underestimating cup size.  This results in the weight of the breasts being carried by the shoulders rather than supported around the chest, and contributes to back pain.”

To conclude, there isn’t enough evidence to support the bra use – breast cancer link. Whether a woman wants to wear a bra or not is her prerogative.

Photo credit: stock. xchng

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.

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