Underwire Bras and Cancer: Myth or Fact?

I have been sitting still these past few weeks due to a recent medical scare that I felt should be shared.  Whew!  I’m exhaling right now because I was given a clean bill of breast health this month-I am Christian so I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank Him for a clean mammogram.


A while ago, I did a self-breast exam and discovered a lump underneath my breast (bare with me-I am “old school” so putting this kind of information out there is very new and admittedly uncomfortable for me) but again, I feel that this is something that should be shared.


As I was dozing off to sleep, I remembered to do my routine self-breast exam.  However, this night was different.  As I felt underneath my breasts, I discovered a huge lump,  and needless to say, I gasped and bolted straight up in my bed.  Blood rushed to my head, and I broke out into a light sweat and began to feel nauseous. My body was truly in a fight or flight stage, only I had no where to run and nothing to physically fight so I tried to calm myself down.  I took another deep breath (I knew what I had previously felt) and  made myself feel in that area again and it was undeniably a HUGE lump that expanded under my entire left breast and halfway under my right breast.  It was in the shape of my underwire bra. I got up and went into the bathroom to do the exam standing.  I could visibly see the lump in the mirror, which truly traumatized me.  I then took  a deep breath and went to my computer (yes, I google everything-probably to the annoyance of my doctors ) to see what was going on.


I typed in lumps under breast and underwire bras, and BINGO!  There were a few articles talking about the dangers of underwire bras-to my disbelief.  Like most women, I have been wearing them for years simply because that’s generally all that’s offered.


Ladies I have news for you!  Well, let’s just say that if you too are wearing them, this post will serve as a wake-up call to please do your own investigation as to whether or not you feel that underwire bras are safe for you.  Just because they’ve been on the market for decades doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t scrutinize their safety.


The History of Underwire Bras


In 1893, a New Yorker named Marie Tucek was granted a patent for a “breast supporter” (AKA underwire bra) to replace the corset.  The bra consisted of a metal plate and other hard materials to give the breasts support.  Unfortunately, Marie was not very successful with marketing her invention so the bra never really gained popularity.


Years later, in the 193os and 1940s, many other patents were filed for different variations of the underwire bra.  However, the bras did not fully gain popularity until Howard Hughes (a film producer and aerospace engineer) had the first seamless push-up underwire bra designed for one of Hollywood’s leading actress, Jane Russell.   Upon filming the movie, “Outlaw,”  he noticed an imperfection with the outline of  her breast and felt that seams were unsightly and that breasts should be lifted and separated.  Well the advertisement surrounding his risque bra design was a huge success.  The underwire bra got the marketing lift it needed and so did Jane Russell-she instantly became America’s first sex symbol.  And like everything else that is touted in Hollywood, women everywhere had to own an underwire bra.





Underwire Bras Might be Increasing More than Your Breast Size


Underwire bras are the best selling bras in the world because they shape your breasts by lifting them and separating them.  But it appears that they might be increasing more than the size of your breast.  Could underwire bras be contributing to an increased risk of cancer or other benign breast conditions like inflammation and swelling or fibrocystic breasts?


Underwire Bras can be a “Drain” on your Lymphatic System


Some research suggests that underwire bras can possibly be linked to the development of breast cancer.  A husband and wife medical anthropologist team, Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer, claim in their book, “Dressed To Kill: The Link between Breast Cancer and Bras” that underwire bras impede lymphatic drainage, which could ultimately lead to breast cancer. 


Singer and Grismaijer’s study of over 4000 women showed that women who wear bras are more likely to develop fibrocystic breast disease and/or breast cancer.  Furthermore they found that simply eliminating bras from the wardrobe could greatly decrease or eliminate fibrocystic breast disease.  Singer and grismaijer are not the only researchers who have been interested in the link between bras and breast health.  Here is a link that provides historical research on bras and the impact they’ve had on breast health, and here is a link to GLOBOCAN’s (the International Agency for Research on Cancer) data that shows that women in less developed countries like middle Africa had the least incidence of breast cancer possibly resulting from their braless culture. 


So let’s delve deeper into the lymphatic system to further understand why it’s important for breast health.



The Lymphatic System Works Tirelessly to Defend Our Bodies


The lymphatic system is an extensive drainage network that is a part of the circulatory system. However, I must first briefly discuss blood flow to give you the full picture of how the lymphatic system works.


Blood Capillaries


Blood flows throughout the body in a continuous loop through blood vessels called capillaries.  The capillaries delivers oxygen and nutrients that are found in the blood into our cells.  The cells use the nutrients and in the process waste is created.  The waste is then moved into the lymphatic system for removal.


Lymph Capillaries


The lymph flows within its own system of lymph capillaries and vessels in one direction, which is upward toward the neck.  The lymph capillaries collect excess fluid and waste that has be leaked from cells and blood capillaries.  The excess waste and fluid is referred to as lymph.  The lymph is deposited into the lymph nodes where filtering takes place and  harmful organisms are trapped and destroyed with lymphocites (white blood cells) that are present in the lymph nodes.  Lastly, the lymph and the lymphocites will then travel and be deposited back into the blood stream.


If the lymph does not flow properly due to restrictions that are possibly caused by a tightly fitting bra, breast health could become compromised in the following ways.

  • Fluid can build up and lead to swelling and or lumps in the breast; and
  • Toxic waste can accumulate within the lymphatic vessels and cause cells to become abnormal and ultimately lead to breast cancer


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So as it pertains to underwire bras possibly contributing to cancer or other benign breast conditions, it is reasonable to conclude that the possibility does exist.  As long as this drainage system is allowed to flow properly, the lymph flows freely and performs its duty.  However, if something such as a tightly fitting underwire bra obstructs the natural flow process, it’s logical to conclude that problems can occur within the breast tissue.


Hmmm….hopefully, you can see just how important the lymphatic system is to your breast health and ultimately, your overall health.


P.S. During my mammogram, I was told not to wear underwire bras because they were not safe.



What you can do to Maintain a Healthy Lymphatic Flow




  • Replace your underwire bras with less restrictive wireless bras
  • Wear your underwire bra only on special occasions
  •  Get properly measured for a bra so that it fits perfectly
  • Do a bi-monthly breast massage to increase lymphatic drainage