In the age of reason, there is no room for taboos, especially about the human body. Taboos veil the body in mystery and superstition, and prevent the scientific inquiry necessary for the advancement of human knowledge, including medical knowledge.
In Western culture, one of the most taboo areas of human anatomy are the female breasts. Not surprisingly, the breasts are a leading sites for disease, including cancer.
Breasts are covered, pushed-up, constricted, implanted, tattooed, pierced, reduced, and sometimes even suckled by babies, although this biological function is often considered unnecessary and vulgar in public. We are a breast obsessed culture, where breasts have become fashion accessories. They have become so sexualized that provocative women use their breasts to gain male favor, and women feel an implicit, if not explicit, requirement to wear bras at work, home, play, and even in bed. Feared more than breast disease is breast droop, sending women to lingerie stores and cosmetic surgeons hoping to defy nature and sport an artificial, culturally correct bustline.
While views of sexualized breasts bombard the public in movies, magazines, newspapers, billboards, and just about all public places, including church on Sunday, the sight of natural breasts evokes shock and horror, and is censored from public view. Women can show cleavage, but they can’t show a nipple. You can also see the discomfort people have with breasts by the way they talk about them, using euphemisms, such as “the girls”, or “boobies”, or “tatas”, “titties”, or one of a hundred other terms for the breasts.
A recent story about model Kendall Jenner walking down the runway in a sheer dress without a bra, showing all, including the much feared nipple, reveals the problem this culture has with breasts. Fox news showed the model with a thick black bar across her offending breasts. The New York Daily News blurred the nipples. US magazine put corporate logos over the nipples, like corporate pasties. The Sun in Canada, with typical Canadian propriety, just cut the picture above the breasts to avoid the issue altogether.
This shameful demonstration of breast-phobia is at the core of the the cause of breast disease. When breasts are taboo, we cannot rationally discuss them without becoming victims of scorn and ridicule. This applies to everyone, including scientists and medical doctors charged with discovering the cause of breast cancer.
Back in 1995, when my wife and I announced our research into the link between breast cancer and the daily wearing of constrictive bras, we were met with ridicule and horror. While we had expected that women would cheer knowing that this disease can be prevented in many cases by simply reducing or eliminating bra tightness and the time spent in bras, the overall reaction was more denial and personal attack than anything else.
Bras, our research suggested, are the leading cause of breast cancer. Like corsets, they constrict and interfere with circulation. Lymph fluid cannot easily drain from a bra-constricted breast. Backed-up fluid results in cysts and pain. This stagnant lymph fluid cannot be adequately flushed away, concentrating waste products and endogenous and exogenous toxins within the slowly toxifying breasts. Ultimately, this can lead to cancer. Essentially, a bra-free woman has about the same incidence of breast cancer as a man. The tighter and longer a bra is worn, the higher the incidence. 24/7 bra wearers have over 100 times the incidence as a bra-free woman.
The bra-cancer link has been confirmed by others. A 1991 Harvard study (CC Hsieh, D Trichopoulos (1991), Breast size, handedness and breast cancer risk, in the European Journal of Cancer and Clinical Oncology 27(2):131-135) found that, “Premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users…” A 2009 Chinese study (Zhang AQ, Xia JH, Wang Q, Li WP, Xu J, Chen ZY, Yang JM (2009), [Risk factors of breast cancer in women in Guangdong and the countermeasures], Nan Fang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao, 2009 Jul;29(7):1451-3) found that NOT sleeping in a bra was protective against breast cancer, lowering the risk 60%. And a 2011 a study was published, in Spanish, confirming that bras are causing breast disease and cancer. It found that underwired and push-up bras are the most harmful, but any bra that leaves red marks or indentations may cause disease.
We also did a follow-up study in Fiji, published in Get It Off! (ISCD Press, 2000). We found 24 case histories of breast cancer in a culture where half the women are bra-free. The women getting breast cancer were all wearing bras. Given women with the same genetics and diet and living in the same village, the ones getting breast disease were the ones wearing bras for work.
To date, there are no studies that refute the bra-cancer link. However, there is still resistance from the cancer detection and treatment industry, as well as the lingerie industry which now helps fund breast cancer research. Of particular interest was an attempt by Ted Glansler of the American Cancer Society to dismiss this information with a letter in the Breast Journal, which was publicized in the New York Times.
The letter, Axillary Lymphatic Disruption does not Increase Risk of Breast Carcinoma, in The Breast Journal, Volume 15, Issue 4, pages 438–439, July/August 2009 was not peer reviewed. Not all the data was shown. It was an editorial, not a scientific report. It was a review of data from women who had had lymph node removal from conditions other than breast cancer, and it set out to see if this loss of lymph node function increased breast cancer incidence. The idea was to test our hypothesis that lymphatic impairment from constrictive bras increases cancer incidence.
Their report did show a significant increase of skin cancers resulting from the lymph node removal! Instead of focusing on this remarkable discovery they focused only on the breast cancer results. The letters says the data showed that there was not a significant increase in breast cancers. However, it does mention that there was not enough data for this conclusion to be statistically valid. In other words, there was not enough data to tell the impact on breast cancer. But this did not stop them from concluding that the bra-cancer link is bunk and not deserving of any research attention.
The ACS is not the only organization opposing the bra-cancer link. The Susan G. Komen Foundation dismisses the link on their website, saying, “Scientific evidence does not support a link between wearing an underwire bra (or any type of bra) and an increased risk of breast cancer. There is no biological reason the two would be linked, and any observed relationship is likely due to other factors.” It rationalizes away the Harvard study, stating, “A 1991 case-control study found that premenopausal women who did not wear bras had a lower risk of breast cancer than women who did wear bras. However, the authors stated this link was likely due to factors related to wearing a bra rather than the bra itself. The women in the study who did not wear a bra were more likely to be lean, which the authors concluded might account for the lower risk.
It risks sounding like a conspiracy theorist to question why these eminent organizations would dismiss this information out of hand, despite there being numerous supporting and no refuting studies. However, one thing is clear. When you are dealing with a taboo subject, nothing is clear. I have had personal communication with a retired scientist from the National Institutes of Health who was intrigued by the bra-cancer theory, but who was called a “pervert” by his female oncologist colleagues for bringing up the bra-cancer question. I have also been told by some other researchers that they feared retribution from their pharmaceutical company funding sources, which manufactured breast cancer treatment drugs, if they tried to research this taboo topic.
You can understand how female physicians might become defensive at the mention of this issue. It’s even worse than the tobacco-cancer link denial of doctors who smoked and promoted cigarettes back in the 1950′s. Ending the smoking habit does not change your appearance. Women, even professional ones, feel they need to look the part in public, wearing high heels, bras, make-up, lipstick, earrings and other sexually alluring devices, despite the non-sexual nature of their occupations. Even Supreme Court justices and First Ladies wear bras. To suggest that the foundation garment they put on each day (assuming they take it off to go to sleep) is actually the foundation of disease, is seen by many women as a threat to their identity as women. They have absorbed the lessons of Barbie dolls, sexist movies, and male dominated lingerie manufacturers. They have developed a distorted body image that relies, in large part, on artificially shaped breasts.
Perhaps the biggest concern for most women is not getting breast cancer, but getting droopy breasts over time. Breast droop is equated with reduced feminine appeal, and a loss of power and value. Cosmetic surgeons capitalize on this insecurity, as do bra makers. Ironically, the bra is a leading cause of breast droop, as a recent 15 year French study by Dr. Jean-Paul Rouillon has shown. His findings made international news because it showed that eliminating the bra resulted in the lifting and toning of the breasts. Even Playtex executive, John Dixey admitted on the UK documentary, Bras–The Bare Facts, released in the year 2000, “We have no evidence that wearing a bra could prevent sagging, because the breast itself is not muscle, so keeping it toned up is an impossibility.” Nevertheless, lingerie sellers have used the promise of preventing breast droop to lift their bottom line.
Given all the focus on breasts as sexual objects and fashion accessories, it is little wonder that the medical establishment has had little interest in further researching this issue, especially since breast cancer detection and treatment is a multi-billion dollar per year enterprise. Mammograms are especially profitable. Back in 1995, after Dressed To Kill was released, the NBC television news show, Dateline, was interested in doing a story on our work. We were extensively interviewed by a skeptical reporter who became a supporter once a medical historian told her that we were to be commended for resurrecting the lymphatic system as a cause of cancer, which had been postulated back in the 1930′s. The story was then abruptly terminated. The producer confidentially explained that the policy of General Electric, which owns NBC, is to avoid airing news stories that can adversely impact on other GE interests. As it happens, GE is a manufacturer of mammography machines
Of course, when you are dealing with billions of dollars of revenue each year for detection and treatment of a disease, its prevention seems not only uninteresting, but outright unprofitable. Unless there is a drug to take or a surgical procedure to undergo, the medical industry has nothing to gain and lots to lose by the bra-cancer link. That women are intimidated by this information enables the medical industry to continue ignoring what should be obvious.
Fortunately, people are free to search the Internet for health information, so they can bypass mainstream medicine and its conflicts of interest. Many go to Wikipedia, believing it is a true and accurate source of information. As it happens, someone started a Wikipedia page on our book, Dressed To Kill, and used it as a vehicle for dismissing the information. Edited by someone who also edits lingerie entries, the biased write-up is impervious to corrective and balanced edits.
When you consider the complex cultural factors that shape public opinion and the drive for knowledge, it becomes apparent that breast cancer is a culturogenic disease. It is caused by culturally ingrained attitudes and behaviors that lead women to constrict their breasts, is supported by a fashion industry that fears the types of class action lawsuits that have challenged the tobacco industry for their harmful products, and all the while the medical industry turns a blind eye while profiting from detecting and treating the resulting disease.
Over 70% of breast cancer cases have no identifiable cause, according to the cancer industry, ignoring the bra-cancer link. What lets them get away with their ignorance and refusal to deal responsibly and scientifically with this issue is a breast taboo and pro-bra bias that covers the mind as well as the breasts.
What’s wrong with people that they put up with disease causing fashions? Harmful fashions are not new. Corsets bound women for centuries, to the point of disease and death. Nevertheless, this fashion of body shaping went on for centuries, despite its toll. Foot binding in China deformed feet to the point that toes would rot away. It was considered erotic to unwrap a bound foot, clean it, and re-wrap it. This lasted for a thousand years, despite its toll. The harm caused by these fashions was obvious. Yet, people lived in either denial of the facts, or in blind cultural obedience despite the facts.
Culturogenic diseases are difficult to address because humans are easily pressured into conformity. We are rational animals, but use our brains more to rationalize than to exercise pure reason. Until our culture matures to the point where bra-free breasts are nothing to snigger at or fear, until the mind is freed of the obsessive association of breasts with sex, and until the mainstream cancer detection and treatment industry rises above its own self interest, this epidemic of breast cancer will continue.
Of course, not all people are shackled by cultural taboos. Fortunately, more people these days are questioning authority, not just medical authority, but all forms of cultural authority. More women are feeling free to stop wearing bras, or to at least wear them looser and for less time. Bra-freedom is busting out all over. And alternative health practitioners, along with many mainstream doctors, are now warning women about the hazards of wearing too tight a bra.
Taking their breast health into their own hands, so to speak, has actually been the reason why, despite cultural resistance, the bra-cancer issue has been kept alive. When the news broke about the hazards of bras, some women with fibrocystic breast disease, consisting of painful cysts, stopped wearing bras. For them, fear of their disease trumped fear of social ridicule. Their reward was reduction or elimination of the cysts, which consists of lymphatic fluid being backed-up by the constrictive bra. It was tangible proof that the bra caused breast disease and forever tarnished in their minds the bra’s image as a benign garment.
Still, with one million bras sold each day, with media still prudishly barring images of bra-free breasts, and with the sight of female nipples arousing fear, anger and trembling, we have a long way to go to get past breast taboos and breast disease.
Article by Sidney Ross Singer