There are several internet rumors about potential causes of breast cancer. One is that wearing a bra, or wearing underwire bra, causes the disease.
However, according to the American Cancer Society, there is no evidence that compression of the lymph nodes by bras causes breast cancer; in reality, body fluids travel up and into the underarm lymph nodes, not towards the underwire. Similarly, there is no evidence that going braless will help to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
Even if women who wear underwire bras are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, a likely explanation would be that many women with larger breasts also tend to be heavier. Being overweight or having a lot of body fat puts a woman at increased risk for breast cancer. It would make sense that women with larger breasts are both more likely to wear underwire bras and more likely to develop breast cancer, but this doesn’t mean that underwire bras cause breast cancer.
Risk Factor You Can’t Control
- Sex: Women represent 99% of all breast cancer patients and have a 12.1% chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.
- Age: The chances of getting breast cancer increase with age. About 65% of women are over 55 years old when they are diagnosed.
- Race: After age 45, white women are more likely to get breast cancer than black women, but black women have a higher incidence before age 45 and more likely to die from breast cancer.
- Family history: Certain inherited gene mutations increase the risk of developing cancer. However, these genes account for only 5-10% of overall cases. Even without those genes, having a grandmother, mother, sister, or daughter diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer increases the risk.
- A previous history of breast cancer, abnormal breast cells (atypical hyperplasia) or certain non-invasive “pre-cancers” like lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) increase the risk of developing invasive cancer.
- Beginning menstruation early (before age 12) increases the risk of breast cancer by affecting the level of reproductive hormones a woman is exposed to during her lifetime.
- Starting menopause late (after age 55) increases the risk of breast cancer.
- Dense breast tissue (including fibrocystic breasts) increases the risk of breast cancer.
Risk Factors You Can (Possibly) Control
- Women who delay having their first child until later in life or who never have children are at a higher risk for breast cancer. In contrast, having children at a younger age and breastfeeding decrease the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Women who take hormonal therapy for menopause are at an increased risk for breast cancer.
- Being overweight or obese increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.
- Physical inactivity increases risk.
- Women who drink an average of 2 alcoholic beverages per day increase their breast cancer risk by 21%. The more a woman drink, the greater her risk.
- High levels of radiation in the chest area before the age of 30 increase the risk.
- Women who took DES during pregnancy are at an increased risk of breast cancer.
- There is growing evidence that smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke probably increase breast cancer risk.
- The use of oral contraceptives may slightly increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Some studies have found no increased risk from taking birth control pills and others have shown an increased risk.
If you are worried about your risk of breast cancer, you should discuss your concerns with a healthcare professional and find out about ways to cut your risk. Knowing the real risk factors and making healthy lifestyle choices can help you reduce your risk. Going braless wont.
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