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No, Gwyneth Paltrow: wearing bras does not cause breast cancer

An osteopath physician whom the British press refers to as Paltrow’s “New Age guru,” posted a fear-mongering article in the “health and wellness” section of her GOOP website.

Gwyneth Paltrow recently permitted Dr. Habid Sadghi, an osteopath physician, to post a fear-mongering article about bras and breast cancer in the “health and wellness” section of her GOOP website.
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The long-asserted claim that bras can cause breast cancer has been thoroughly debunked, but, apparently, some people prefer to ignore that fact.

They’d rather disseminate fear.

And, unfortunately, one of those people is a celebrity with a large social media following — actor Gwyneth Paltrow.

She recently permitted Dr. Habid Sadghi, an osteopath physician whom the British press refers to as Paltrow’s “New Age guru,” to post a fear-mongering article about bras and breast cancer in the “health and wellness” section of her GOOP website.

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Sadghi says — without an iota of scientific evidence — that women should avoid bras as much as possible, especially ones with underwire.

Sadghi is cleverly deceptive in making his arguments sound reasonable. For example, at one point he acknowledges that the research he cites linking bras to breast cancer are designed in a way that can show only a correlation between the two, not a cause-and-effect. But then he goes on to declare that the correlation between bras and breast cancer is too strong to be ignored — indeed, it’s “4 to 12 times as great as the connection between smoking and lung cancer,” he writes.

“Those who laughed at the data are now giving it a serious second look,” he claims.

Actually, nobody serious is giving it a serious second look.

The facts

Soon after Sadghi’s article appeared, Dr. Jen Gunter, an ob-gyn based in San Francisco, posted a blistering rebuttal of it on her own blog, Wielding the Lasso of Truth. Sadghi’s resurrection of the myth about bras and breast cancer had made her angry.

“This stuff scares women,” Gunter told Huffington Post reporter Melissa Jeltsen. “When people have cancer they desperately reap their past to try and come up with things they may have done, and so this kind of misinformation could cause women to stress and lose sleep and that is definitely bad for your health, never mind being cruel.”

Gunter annihilates Sadeghi’s “evidence.” For example:

Dr. Sadeghi dives right into the nonsense quoting a debunked book from 1995, Dressed to Kill, as if it were medical literature. He states that a 1991 study found that “pre-menopausal women who did not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer when compared to bra users. ” Except that’s not what the study found. The study published in the European Journal of Cancer in 1991 by Hsieh, entitled Breast size, handedness, and breast cancer risk, found the following:

“Premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users (P about 0.09), possibly because they are thinner and likely to have smaller breasts. Among bra users, larger cup size was associated with an increased risk of breast cancer (P about 0.026), although the association was found only among postmenopausal women and was accounted for, in part, by obesity. These data suggest that bra cup size (and conceivably mammary gland size) may be a risk factor for breast cancer.” 

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It’s breast size that increases the risk of breast cancer and not because larger breasts need more manhandling by underwires, but because larger breasts are harder to screen and are associated with obesity, a known risk for breast cancer.

Dr. Sadeghi also quotes “research” by the authors of Dressed to Kill, Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer, that claims to have followed 5,000 women over two years linking breast cancer to bra wearing. Except the good doctor’s definition of research and mine clearly differ — this data is not published in any medical journal. Singer and his cohort Grismaijer have zero publications regarding breast cancer according to PubMed. 

They can throw around any numbers they want, but if their unpublished study wasn’t IRB approved and the data isn’t available for peer review it’s worthless. Oh, and neither Singer nor Grismaijer are doctors or cancer researchers.

Another falsehood

Sadeghi (who apparently practices something he calls “lymphatic massage”) also claims that bras, particularly ones with underwire, can inhibit the flow of fluids within the lymphatic system, causing “toxic chemicals” to become trapped in the breasts.

But, as Gunter points out, this theory isn’t supported by any science — only by a 1996 manual on complementary health and breast cancer authored by Dr. Michael Schacter (who apparently also believes in a link between autism and vaccines, another thoroughly discredited piece of fear-mongering).

“Lymphatic obstruction is not a risk factor for cancer,” Gunter writes. “If it were all the lymph node dissections done to save people from various cancers would paradoxically be killing them. We actually have mountains of data on outcomes after lymph node dissection, so if impeding lymph flow caused cancer we’d know.”

“As an aside, I don’t know what kind of bras these men have seen,” she adds, “but if your bra is impeding your lymphatic flow it is going to harm you because it will hurt. A lot. The kind of compression required to impact lymphatic flow is pretty significant. Maybe they should all wear one for a day or two so they can better understand exactly what a bra is and how if fits and works.”

You can read Gunter’s article on her website.