But Sydney Ross Singer says he’s also up against a powerful industry worth billions of dollars, with a vested interest in ignoring his findings.
“There really is a conspiracy, and it is killing women,” said Singer, the co-author of the 1995 book Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras.
Yet his beliefs remain controversial. Several major cancer research organizations have dismissed his claims, saying the science doesn’t back it up.
A researcher in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, studied the topic in 2014, looking at the bra-wearing habits of more than a thousand post-menopausal women with the two most common types of breast cancer.
“We found no evidence,” he said.
Singer’s research started in Fiji in 1990, when his wife noticed a lump in her breast. The couple was dumbfounded. When she returned to the states, she stopped wearing her bra and the lump went away.
Singer who is co-director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease, began to delve into other cultures where bra-wearing is not as common. Incidences of breast cancer, he says, diminished to almost nothing. He also interviewed about 5,000 women, half of whom had breast cancer, comparing their bra-wearing habits to women without cancer.
The body’s lymphatic system drains toxins, but not when the system is constricted by a tight bra.
“Medicine never looks at this type of thing, because they just don’t think about it,” Singer said.
A study conducted in 2015 at the University of Nairobi, Aga Khan University and Kenyatta National Hospital backed up Singer’s claims—but it was largely ignored outside of Kenya, Singer said.
He’s gotten some support from a few U.S. doctors, including Dr. Elizabeth Vaughn, a North Carolina doctor who’s launched the website brafree.org .
“In pinning down suspicions about bras and breast cancer, I suspect we’re about where we were in 1950 with our suspicions about cigarette smoke and lung cancer,” Vaughn wrote. “It took 30 years of research before the dots were finally connected between tobacco smoke and lung cancer.”
Vaughn does include a disclaimer at the bottom of her site: “Many physicians – perhaps most physicians – and the American Cancer Society assert that no link has been positively demonstrated between bras and breast cancer.”
Singer has been critical of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, organizations that disagree that bras cause breast cancer.
A community health director for Susan G. Komen Maryland, said it’s been widely accepted that there’s no scientific evidence linking bras to breast cancer. She referenced a 1991 Harvard study also noted by Singer that found that premenopausal women who don’t wear bras cut their risk of developing breast cancer in half.
She suggested that thinner women are more likely to forgo bras—and being heavier increases one’s risk of developing breast cancer.
She said she’s unaware of any plans to look into the issue of bras and breast cancer, adding that topics such as metastatic cancer, why tumors become drug-resistant and triple negative breast cancer are among the organization’s priorities.
“That’s where we’re focusing our research dollars,” Kesler said
A medical director of the breast center at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and MedStar Harbor Hospital, said that Dressed to Kill didn’t take into account factors such as obesity.
She said patients ask her at least once a month about whether wearing a bra can lead to breast cancer.
But Singer counters the medical community, by and large, is reluctant to go up against the lucrative breast cancer detection and treatment industry.
He criticized the Fred Hutchinson researchers for not studying any bra-free women, and only focusing on post-menopausal women.
Chen, who handled the study, defended its methodology, saying the subjects were from a pool already being studied by the institution for breast cancer risks.
“Nowadays, bra wearing is so common—it would be very hard to find any woman who hasn’t worn a bra,” Chen said.
Some researchers argue that the body’s lymphatic system drains toxins, but not when the system is constricted by a tight bra.