The conversations online have started again recently about the link between bras and breast cancer. The headline writers have again created concern for women about bra wearing. Twitter streams show the horror women feel that a clothing item they wear every day could be the cause of one the big C concerns women don’t want to hear at the check up with their doctor.

Is there a link between wearing a bra and breast cancer?

From my 15 years research and experience, my answer is no. Not directly.bras and breast cancer

I had a conversation with a friend recently about my concern about women’s health in African countries where many of our unwanted bras end up. I shared that an ill-fitting bra can cause damage to the breast tissue, which can lead to breast dis-comfort, which may not be easily rectified with the health systems currently available in some of the remote areas these bras reach.

My friend was surprised. She didn’t know that a bra could have a negative health impact. Think about it though.

If you’re wearing an ill fitting bra, how do you feel? Uncomfortable? Most certainly. If something is digging into your breast tissue during the day, what is that doing to the delicate tissue of the breast?

How fibrous tissues cause discomfort

OK, let’s move away from breasts for a moment and think about how and why we release fibrous tissue in other parts of our body. Even if you don’t do exercise yourself, you’ll know what tight muscles feels like I’m sure? You may also have seen people use equipment like a foam roller after exercise, or a spiky ball? They use these to literally release the muscles and fibrous tissue which has built up during a session where the repetition causes tissues to glue together.

foam roller and release ballPersonally, I do pilates each week, and went to a “release workshop” recently to learn how to use a piece of equipment. My calves get tight even after walking, so using my hedgehog helps me release the pain I have when my tissue feels like it’s knotted together.

When you look at articles or research into Myo fascial release you’ll learn that not only does the “hip bone connect to the thigh bone”, but all of our cells, organs, tendons and muscles are interconnected. So if even one cell in our body is in tension, it will have a knock on effect to the rest of our body. One interesting part of this particular paper says, “Collagen fibers within fascia affect both blood flow to muscles and lymphatic fluid flow.”

So you may have heard about the lymphatic system? It’s our body’s natural drainage system which keeps our immune system as healthy as it can be. So if we’re putting regular pressure on one small part of our body every day, or through regular exercises, this will show up in our body feeling tight in that area, which in turn is uncomfortable.

Still with me? Make sense?

What’s this got to do with my breasts and bras?

When I train people to be bra fitters, we have a section on “health issues caused by bras”. It’s often when these women who’ve been wearing bras all their lives get a real “ah ha” moment of their own. Back and neck ache are the most common health issues caused by ill fitting bras. Then there’s mastitus which is generally experienced by pregnant or breastfeeding women which is often caused by an ill fitting bra.

But we always talk about cysts, fibrocystic disease and breast cancer. Not for any other reason than it’s talked about amongst women and in online forums. As a bra fitter some women ask about this in the fitting room. And that’s not just those women I see who’ve had breast cancer or breast surgery to remove a lump of some kind.

Cancer Research UK on fibrocystic disease

As we talk and learn together, new bra fitters understand that an ill fitting bra can have a massive impact on a woman’s health. It’s not a simple “use this bra and you’ll keep your breasts healthy”, or “wear soft cup bras and maintain good breast health”. There’s as much to breast health as there is to bra design & bra fitting! As you are well aware – your body and breast shape and size is very different to the lady next to you. You need something different to support you, yet the bras you may see in the retailers you shop in all seem the same!

Breast anatomy from

Let’s get back to the main point. If you are wearing an uncomfortable bra day in and day out, then it will affect your health. Whether it’s soft cup or underwired, it doesn’t matter. An ill fitting bra (for you) may cause discomfort and lead to dis-ease in your breast tissue of some kind. The fascia, fibroblast, cells, connective tissue may all be damaged in some way by something pressing on your breast tissue.

Our bodies are complex. Our breasts are made up of different structures which link to other parts of our body. This diagram doesn’t include milk ducts which adds another layer of complexity to this area. Whether you are or become a mother, your breasts include these ducts. If you conceive changes will happen to your breasts whether you continue to full term or not (that’s a conversation for another day).

Mind over matter

You’ll have heard the expression “what you focus on grows”. There are many people who believe that if you focus on pain, your pain will increase. If you focus on the areas of no pain in your body, the pain will become less acute, and may disappear completely.

In this instance, if you are constantly thinking about the pain in your breasts, or your uncomfortable bra, then that focus is sending messages to your brain telling it that there’s a problem with your breast health. Do those messages instigate breast cancer? I’ve not found any research to suggest it does. However there is evidence to suggest that those using positive thoughts to reduce their pain have seen tumours shrunk.

Again, our thoughts have an impact on our bodies. Every part of us is interconnected – body and brain and soul. We all have each, even if we don’t think about each of them much.

Is there a link between bras and breast cancer?

It’s not been proven. So let’s focus on what we do know about what does cause breast cancer:

  • Being over weight & particularly being obese
  • Alcohol
  • Eating processed foods
  • Being inactive
  • Sugary drinks
  • Inherited genes and family history

For more information about preventing all types of cancer see World Cancer Research Fund.

Bras aren’t a direct cause of breast cancer, but they can cause you discomfort and dis-ease. They may cause fibrous tissue to collect together, which may cause a cyst, which may, if not treated, become malignant. It’s a possibility.

However, if you always wear good fitting bras, eat well, are active, live a positive life and focus on the good things around you, then I’m sure you’ll have the best chance of not getting breast cancer. If you have any concerns about your breast health please speak to your doctor or local breast care nurse. It’s easy to say don’t worry, but staying positive can increase your chances of living a healthy life. Simply reading Deepak Chopra’s The Healing Self shows you the power you have over your own body and mind to stay healthy.