Do Bras Cause Breast Cancer? – A Primal Question: A guy shouldn’t be the one having to address this question publicly. But many women when confronting even the possibility that bras cause breast cancer become, um, let me think about how to put this . . . well here is part of one female reader's Amazon review of the book I'll discuss in this post, not entirely atypical (don't overlook the part about shoes):
"Never before have I wanted to burn a book until this one. This book made me so angry it took all my control not to toss it across the book store into the nearest trash can. It is disgusting that people feel the need to make money off other people health fears. Next we will be told not to wear shoes or hats for fear of heaven knows what. Not only are the theories unsupported (no pun intended) scientifically I think they have the potential to also cause harm. I am sick of hearing (primarily from men and small breasted women) that consistent bra wearing is a bad thing. If you have never been a size DD or larger then shut up about it. You don't know what you are talking about. Bras are very necessary for those of us unfortunate enough to have such genes. If for example I gave up bra wearing I would also have to give up exercising. As we know a lack of exercise is a contributing factor of many ailments. Is this really a responsible message to be sending to the readers? Bra wearing is NOT a fashion thing. It is a comfort thing. I can't walk down stairs bra-less without severe pain. Going without one for longer than it takes to bathe is NOT an option. This book just gives women one more thing to feel guilty about. Don't waste your time and especially your money on this garbage. "
Anyway, turning straight to the less than ideal evidence:
The Book: “Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras” (1995, 2002, 2006), by Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer
Summed Up: Husband and wife anthropologists, with medical training, have a special interest in the impact of cultures on the incidence of disease. They form the hypothesis that bras may contribute to breast cancer and fibrocystic breast disease. They test their theory with a retrospective study involving 4500 women, half of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. They conclude that women who wear bras more than 12 hours per day have lifetime risk of breast cancer that is many times higher than women who wear bras less than 12 hours per day. The authors also point out that breast cancer is rare in countries where bras are not as commonly worn.
Singer's Statistical Conclusions:
Lifetime risk of breast cancer for women surveyed who never wear bras: 1 in 168
Lifetime risk of breast cancer for women surveyed wearing bras less than 12 hours per day: 1 in 152
Lifetime risk of breast cancer for women surveyed who wear bras more than 12 hours per day, but not to sleep: 1 in 11
Lifetime risk of breast cancer for women surveyed who wear bras more than 12 hours per day, and to sleep: 3 in 4
Sydney Ross Singer: Medical Anthropologist, Undergraduate degree in biology, 2 years of graduate work at Duke in biochemistry, two more years at Duke for M.S. in anthropology, two years of medical school at Univ. of Texas, additional year of medical humanities.
Soma Grismaijer: Anthropological Researcher, Undergraduate degrees in behavioral science and environmental studies, licensed optician.
The authors appear to be sincere people:
“When we tested this theory, the findings were astounding. The connection of bras to breast cancer proved greater than our original expectations . . . the greatest challenge that faces any researcher is the need to keep an open mind. We cannot hope to unravel the mysteries of our time when faced with the biases of our time . . . All that is needed is an open mind – and a willingness to examine the evidence.”
Even fifteen years after the first publication, all we have is their book, their study, and the most scanty additional evidence either supporting it or refuting it.
So I am compelled to come to one of four possible conclusions about the authors in relation to their subject:
1. They are right (with earth shaking ramifications.)
2. They are crazy.
3. They are incompetent.
4. They are frauds.
And I don't know which. I worry that #1 could be the winning answer. But I just don't know.
I first bought this book in 1995. It had an eye catching cover photo of a nicely filled out bra under its provocative title. But I bought it because I was still haunted by the relatively recent death of a way-too-young older relative from breast cancer.
The women’s magazines of the day were fast in their denunciations. Between pages of bra advertisements, male physicians who had obviously never read the book pronounced the bra – breast cancer connection idea to be absurd, anatomically impossible. They could be right.
A few women physicians weren’t so sure – and some such as Elizabeth Vaughan MD still aren’t so sure:
As recently as this year, a New York Times Q&A feature sought to put the question to rest by answering it with a resounding “NO!”
There, a male MD from the American Cancer Society was queried on the subject and his responses were provided:
“’The short answer is no,’ Dr. Ted Gansler, . . . replied. There is no scientifically credible evidence of this, he said, and the proposed mechanism — that bras prevent elimination of toxins by blocking lymph flow — is not in line with scientific concepts of how breast cancer develops. Internet traffic on the issue is mostly inspired by one study with several scientific flaws, Dr. Gansler said. The study, never published in a peer-reviewed journal, did not adjust for known breast cancer risk factors that might be associated with bra-wearing behavior, like weight and age. Also, study participants knew the hypothesis before taking the survey.
‘Because the idea of bras’ causing breast cancer is so scientifically implausible, it seems unlikely that researchers will ever spend their time and resources to test it in a real epidemiological study,’ Dr. Gansler said.
He and colleagues compared National Cancer Institute data on breast cancer risk for women treated for melanoma who had several underarm lymph nodes removed and those who did not. The surgery, which is known to block lymph drainage from breast tissue, did not detectably increase breast cancer rates, the study found, meaning that it is extremely unlikely that wearing a bra, which affects lymph flow minimally if at all, would so. “
So that is about where it all stands. Gansler and his “colleagues” looked at melanoma patients who’d had surgery that should have impaired breast lymph circulation and concluded that because they did not seem to get breast cancer at higher rates than other women (who presumably wore bras!), bras couldn’t cause breast cancer. His conclusions seem as knee jerk dismissive as many others who preceded him.
What is maddening to some, fifteen years after Singer and his wife made their attempt at a prima facie case, no reputable researcher has bothered to do a simple well designed replication of the study that started all this. To prove it right or wrong.
While almost mockingly criticizing Singer’s study, the NYT and American Cancer Society doc provide no scientific citations or details for the supposed study on melanoma patients conducted by the latter doctor that supposedly refuted Singer’s study. I've not been able to find it so far.
If the latter study’s melanoma patients with melanoma severe enough to warrant axial lymph node removal even lived long enough to also develop primary breast tumors, and if their melanoma treatment and immune responses to the melanoma did not suppress formation of such breast tumors, and if there were enough of these patients, and if a lot of other answers were provided along with all the details of their “study,” Gansler's assertions might be marginally more convincing to me.
So especially for those of us who appreciate the possibility of Primal answers to questions involving disease, we are all left with this critical question that demands good answers, but no good answers. Does someone have a better conclusion? Some of you logical, analytical and objective Primal guys out there? Some hysterical women? Some astute non-hysterical Primal women?