Women, you may have heard news that wearing a bra is bad for you. Not because the straps dig into your shoulders or because the polyester fabric makes your boobs sweaty. The story making the rounds on social media and on some Websites says that bras trap toxins in your breasts and that this increases your risk of breast cancer. So, should you burn your bra (again)? Here’s what the research actually has to say…


Where the idea that bras cause breast cancer started isn’t clear, but it’s a story that has been making the rounds on the Internet. To get a clearer picture of the relationship between breast cancer and bras, researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, one of the country’s premier research institutions, analyzed information from 1,044 postmenopausal women who had had breast cancer and 469 postmenopausal women who had not. Information about bra-wearing habits and breast cancer risk factors was collected through in-person interviews. The women were asked for information on what age they began bra-wearing, what sort of bra (underwire or not) they tended to wear, their bra size and how many hours they tended to wear a bra each day. They also were questioned about their reproductive history, family history of cancer, use of hormone replacement therapy, body size at different ages and other factors that influence risk of breast cancer.

Results: Compared with women who had not had breast cancer, those who had were more likely to be heavier, use estrogen/progestin hormone replacement therapy, have a family history of breast cancer and have never been pregnant—all basic known risk factors for breast cancer. Meanwhile, whether or not they wore bras made no difference. No aspect of bra-wearing—not size, inclusion of an underwire or hours worn had any correlation with breast cancer development.

Frankly, I am not the least bit surprised, though I’m glad the study was done so women everywhere can finally put this fear to rest.


As for those claims that bra-wearing traps toxins in the breasts, they are based on the belief that bras block the natural flow of lymph fluid in and around the area. As you may know, lymph fluid is a big part of the body’s natural detoxification system. So these claims sound plausible. But even if bras did block lymph fluid, it would be pure supposition to say that this led to cancer—and it would be incorrect. A study by the American Cancer Society looked at a group of women who had had shoulder or upper-arm surgery for treatment of skin cancer. Women who had had underarm lymph nodes surgically removed (thus greatly compromising lymph drainage in the breast) were no more likely to end up with breast cancer than women who had intact and fully functioning lymph nodes.


So don’t add bra-wearing to the list of whatever you stress about each day. Wear a bra…if you want to—and don’t feel as if you need to give anyone an excuse or apology if you choose not to wear one no matter what your size, shape or age. Going braless won’t reduce your risk of getting breast cancer any more than wearing pink panties will, but lifestyle habits such as getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and curbing a smoking or drinking habit will. If you need guidance on what really works or inspiration, I encourage you to explore Bottom Line’s Breast Cancer Guide: Prevent, Detect, Treat, Recover.