Bras: Do They Do Anything for Women?

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Most American women wouldn’t dream of leaving home without wearing a bra, but they unhook — if not remove them — once they’re home for the evening. Most feel culturally obligated to align to the “proper” silhouette and make sure they’re covered up.

Aesthetics and modesty aside, what health benefit do bras provide, if any?

In the mid-‘90s, a rumor circulated that underwire bras raise women’s risk of breast cancer because they supposedly hamper the body’s lymphatic system and cause toxins to build up, eventually leading to breast cancer.

Jayne R Charlamb, an OB-GYN with SUNY Upstate, said that her patients often ask about an increased risk of breast cancer because of wearing underwire bras.

“There is absolutely no good scientific evidence showing a causal link between bra-wearing and breast cancer,” said Charlamb, who is associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the division of breast health and breastfeeding medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

While that may let under wires off the hook, women can reduce the risk of breast cancer through a few proactive steps. Charlamb said that alcohol intake and obesity are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, and that breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk.

Home self breast exams, clinical breast exams and mammograms may also help catch cancer while it is still more easily treated.

Bras offer few health benefits, according to Nicole Chaffee, physical therapist with Regain Physical Therapy in Pittsford.

“They have fair to little tension support for the back muscles and muscles of the chest,” she said.

Racer-back and crisscross styles can help users improve posture and provide support for larger breasts; however, they can’t prevent sagging.

For more support and greater comfort, Chaffee recommends bras with separate cups and wider straps.

Some people theorize that wearing a bra weakens ligaments that support the breasts, but that’s not the case, according to Emese Kalnoki, a new surgeon practicing at Quatela Center in Rochester. She specializes in aesthetic and reconstructive breast surgery and body contouring procedures.

But it’s also not true that a bra will prevent natural sagging once they’re removed.

“So, go ahead and wear your favorite bra — or don’t,” Kalnoki said.

She listed pregnancy, breastfeeding, weight loss and gain, and aging as contributory causes of sagging breasts, not whether or not a woman wears a brassiere.

“The type of collagen that you inherit from your parents also affects the perkiness of your breasts throughout life,” she added.

Many women keep wearing the same sized bra despite changes in their breasts. Others don’t have their brassieres adjusted correctly or wear the wrong size. Kalnoki recommends an annual bra fitting.