While it makes sense that restrictive bras worn for long periods of time can contribute to breast cancer, there is no definitive proof.
Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismajer, authors of a recent book, Dressed to Kill (Avery, 1995), are researchers in the field of medical anthropology. Together they interviewed 4,500 women, about half of whom had breast cancer. They found that women who had breast cancer were more likely to have worn their bras for twelve hours or more a day, were less happy with the size and shape of their breasts without a bra, and more often their bras caused red marks or irritation. Twenty percent of women with breast cancer also wore their bras to bed.
The authors speculate that a tight bra worn for long periods of time cuts off lymphatic drainage and keeps the breast in contact with toxins for longer periods of time.
Their questionnaire results do suggest further well designed studies may be worthwhile. For large breasted women, wearing bras may be essential, but their use could be modified. The authors also pointed to the constant exposure to toxins in the diet and in the environment.
However, they downplay the importance of external estrogen in adding to breast cancer risk, like hormone replacement therapy for menopause and the many industrial chemicals that mimic the action of estrogen. In fact, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (June, 1995) by a well known researcher showed a 40 percent increase in breast cancer risk for women who had taken estrogen for six or more years.
There are four excellent books on breast cancer prevention. One is, Fit for Life III (Prentice Hall, 1998) by Harvey Diamond, who emphasizes the importance of a low fat vegetarian diet, fasting, and improving lymphatic drainage through using the mini-trampoline. Susun Weed's new book, Breast Care, The Wise Woman Way, (AshTree, 1996) offers a comprehensive approach to breast cancer treatment and prevention using herbs and natural treatments including breast massage. Dr. Ross Pelton and radiologist Dr. Vinton Vint and Taffy Pelton's book, How To Prevent Breast Cancer (Fireside, 1995) offers a more conventional but very useful approach to breast cancer prevention including antioxidants, melatonin, diet and non-sexual breast massage.
Finally a new book called The Breast Cancer Prevention Programme by Dr. Samuel Epstein and David Steinman (MacMillan, 1997) details how to avoid all environmental, occupational and prescription cancer causing agents.
The message in all this is to pay attention to your body's signals, avoid prolonged use of tight bras and practice breast self massage to promote lymph drainage (or get a loving partner to help).
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