Dr. Amy Tuteur is an obstetrician-gynecologist. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard College and her medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Tuteur is a former clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School.

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FEBRUARY 15, 2010 7:28PM

Beware Big Bra

Rate: 18 Flag


Just when I think I've heard it all, along comes a new wacky theory of disease causation. The claim is that bras cause breast cancer. I can see the appeal. The claim unites a number of axioms of alternative health: cancer is caused by toxins; cancer is preventable by simple things you can do at home; anything "unnatural" is bad for you.

How are these axioms combined to create the claim that bras cause breast cancer? According to the alternative health website Health & Beyond:

"Bras cause breast cancer. It's open and shut," says medical researcher Syd Singer...

The Singers became breast cancer sleuths in 1991 [when] Soma discovered a lump in her breast ...

Could bras be constricting breast tissue, Syd wondered, hampering lymph drainage and causing degeneration?
Amazingly enough, the Singers figure it out without doing ANY research! Aren't they smart?
The World Health Organization calls chemical toxins the primary cause of cancer. But poisons accumulating in breast tissue are normally flushed by clear lymph fluid into large clusters of lymph nodes nestling in the armpits and upper chest. The Singers found that "because lymphatic vessels are very thin, they are extremely sensitive to pressure and are easily compressed." Chronic minimal pressure on the breasts can cause lymph valves and vessels to close.

"Less oxygen and fewer nutrients are delivered to the cells, while waste products are not flushed away," the Singers noted. After 15 or 20 years of bra-constricted lymph drainage, cancer can result.
The Singers rushed to share their insights with major organizations, but they were ignored! Why? Could it have been because their theory is stupid, lacking proof, and in conflict with what we know about lymphatic drainage? Not according to the Singers. It's a conspiracy!!!
Well aware that their findings were "explosive," the Singers sent their survey results to the heads of America's most prestigious cancer organizations and institutes. None responded. Like the cancer business, the bra business is huge. Multiply how many worldwide women buy several $25 bras every year and you end up with a multiple of the $6 billion-a-year US bra business.
Big Bra is hiding information to protect their sales! Who knew?

Of course, the Singers theory is nonsensical. When lymph drainage is impeded, the area swells up, often quite dramatically. For example, women who have had lymph nodes removed as part of breast cancer treatment often experience marked painful swelling in the arm on that side. No woman wears a bra that is tight enough to cause her breasts to swell markedly (although some would surely choose to do so if there were such a bra). There is no evidence that "toxins" accumulate in the breasts or that "toxins" are drained by way of the lymphatic system. And there's no scientific evidence that anyone who experiences lymphedema (the medical term for swelling caused by impaired lymph drainage) in any part of the body has an increased risk of cancer in that body part.

The Singers are not bothered by such details. They've proven the theory to their own satisfaction. After discovering a breast lump, Soma stopped wearing her bra:

"Going bra-less for all occasions, Soma began dressing to de-emphasize her breasts. She also began regular breast massage and bicycle riding, vitamin and herbal supplementation, and drinking only purified water.

Two months later, her lump disappeared."

Well, if that isn't proof, what is?

Of course, the vast majority of breast lumps are not cancer, many are cysts, and a large proportion disappear spontaneously in three months, just like in Soma's case. So what? The Singers "know" that Big Bra is concealing more than breasts. They "know" that bras cause breast cancer, and they know that Big Bra is engaged in a cover up of this important information.

What should you do? The Singers believe that you should not wear a bra, but they have kindly offered this helpful information for women who continue to trap "toxins" in their breasts:
Don't wear this disastrous device to sleep. Take it off at home. Massage your breasts every time you remove your bra. Sing your lymphatics into health -- or at least breathe deeply.
Words to live by!

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Love your take on medical issues! And I was going to burn my bras...
I have to agree with them. I think all women should go braless, and if you need help with that massage, call me.

Dr Amy, is there anything we can do to stop nuts like these? As a truck driver I bet I listen to 10 hours of radio a day. Do you know how many ads there are to get your colon cleaned, get your erection stiff, and boost your brain and immune functions?
"Dr Amy, is there anything we can do to stop nuts like these?"

I'm afraid that the only way to stop them would be if no one bought their stuff. As long as they keep making money, they'll keep inventing new "cures."
If even one woman goes bra-less and uses massage instead of consulting a doctor about a lump in her breast, these two idiots should be shot.
Haha! Someone once forwarded me an e-mail about this. It sounded like nonsense, so I ignored it. Now it sounds even sillier. My question is, what's in it for the Singers? Are they selling something? Do they charge people money to remove their bras? Because that would be really funny.
Love your blog!
What kind of "medical researcher" is Syd Singer anyways?
Oh man. The people who think they can cheat cancer by doing some little thing. I wore a bra for maybe six months in 1972, got breast cancer anyway. How the heck did that happen, Syd Singer?
"Oh man. The people who think they can cheat cancer by doing some little thing."

Wishful thinking is thoroughly human. That's the essence of the appeal of "alternative" health.
You know, that is exactly what the lymph node biopsies indicated last year when I had a bilateral mastectomy; the cancer cells looked like little underwire bras.

Oh, for God's sake. . . .
If only I could go bra-less. Try it when you have a big pair. Painful, unsightly and bad for the muscles.
Any studies about wearing jockstraps?
Ah, yes, Dr. Amy. It's not a new theory, but it's one of those perennial evergreen Inbox Eye-Rollers that never stops being breathlessly forwarded.

My D-cups and I thank the conspiracy nuts for their concern, but we like our elaborate bust truss.

But don't the "impaired lymph drainage" theory has begun to be spread about for men, too. Tight underwear impede lymph drainage! And runnig shoes are going to hurt you!

I read it on the internet! It must be true!
Isn't it just as dangerous for my breasts to be hanging like utters from my breast bone? If I turn quickly, I could knock somebody's eye out. Or, what if I leaned over a pot of boiling water and --- no, no, I can't even "bare" to think about it.

Victoria's Secret does not have any worries about their stock -- paper and fabric -- becoming worthless.
Oh dear.

OK, Dr. Amy. I was going to skip volunteering at the elementary school science fair this year, but alas! You have goaded me once more into the realms of science education. Every week of two I get on my soap box and rant about how woefully uneducated the American public is about basic science.

So... off I go to the public library to help my daughter come up with a project. My kids will grow up knowing what a hypothesis is! What a variable is! How to prove it (or not) through trial and error! and that if your hypothesis is wrong, it's still science!

(stepping off soap-box and out to the library...)
Donna you are hilarious :)

Very informative article, although being just barely a B I whip mine off as soon as I get home. My mother had to tie me down to get me to wear one when I was 11, and I still hate the damn things.
it warms my heart to know that all my adolescent gropings were actually doing some medical good...
This is such bullshit... Im twenty, never wear a bra, and was told a couple of weeks ago that I might have a cancerous lump in my right breast. Wanna know what the lady conducting my ultrasound told me?

"Honey, you should lay off the caffeine and maybe not wear a bra so much until we get this settled and figure out what is going on"

I haven't had caffeine since I was sixteen and again don't wear a bra but I just nodded and appeased her with my compliance. I understand that caffeine makes cysts in the breast act up and that may be a legit concern but this whole 'bras = cancer" bullshit is just that, bullshit. Bravo on your writings!
The one good thing about this nonsense is that it is a pretty spectacular example of why correlation does not mean causation, on both the macro and micro level. As such, it may help educate people about telling the difference between the two.

On the macro level, the fact that women in first world countries have a higher incidence of breast cancer and the fact that women in first world countries wear bras tells us nothing about whether bras cause breast cancer. Women in first world countries also have a lower risk of dying of infectious disease. Should we conclude, therefore, that bras act like antibiotics and prevent death from infectious disease? I don't think so.

On the micro (individual) level, the Singers demonstrate the fallacy of infering causation from temporal association. Just because something happens after a specific action does not mean that the action cause the event. We know from many studies and years of experience that a large proportion of breast lumps disappear spontaneously, particularly in pre-menopausal women. The fact that Ms. Singer stopped wearing a bra and her lump disappeared tells us nothing about whether the bra had anything to do with it.
Love your post.... and all the swingin' boobies.
You say what the Singer sisters say about going bra-less and massage are "words to live by", but then you say "Just because something happens after a specific action does not mean that the action cause the event".

I'm confused. Where do you stand, MD? A lot of ladies want to know, especially ladies who just got back from their first mammogram, at 30.
"I'm confused."

"Words to live by" is a joke. I think the Singers are spouting nonsense.
Dang, these people are NUTS! Nothing wrong with breast massage, but thinking it will cure cancer is just beyond STUPID.
Thanks Dr Amy for words of wisdom and exposing more nutcases for what they are, nutcases. Their theory is right up there with the bandaids you put on your feet to "drain the toxins" out of your body. Some of these theories are downright medeviel.
Well, in all fairness to the Singers, very few men wear bras OR get breast cancer.

Perhaps they need to do a study of transvestites...
LN: Actually more than a "few" men get breast cancer.
Lady Miko--I know that, I just meant in relation to women.
Aw shoot. I thought there was going to be a reason to trash the over the shoulder boulder holders that are taking up waaay to much space under my shirt. I wanna let the tatas go free, but then I'd have that extra roll around my waist that would need attention...
This is the kind of thing that caused the whole MRI hysteria a couple of years ago. Pseudo-science with the right kind of coverage where people like the Singers just "know" something to be true. Thanks for the amusing and interesting post which also makes a serious point.
Don't let me partner see this - go braless and massage our breasts every night before bed!!! But then again... :o)
It really is interesting how much nonsense one can find on the Internet, though I doubt it's a great deal more prevalent than the nonsense one might overhear in many public places.

I'm personally very much in favor of women going braless when that's what makes them comfortable, just as I'm all in favor of bust trusses to keep gals with prodigious endowments comfortable.

When it comes to being clothed or unclothed, comfort is the key. Those are words to live by.
Someone should let Jenny "Children Murderer" McCarthy know about this.