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Expert Advice: I Wear a Bra To Sleep. Could It Really Cause Breast Cancer?

It isn't linked to cancer, but it may cause other issues.

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By now, everyone has heard that it’s not good to squish breasts into a tight bra all day long. Some doctors say it causes problems with lymph node drainage and over time, wearing one can have very serious health effects. But how much of that is true, and how much do women need to worry? Barbara DePree, MD, is here this week to answer one of our reader’s questions about the subject.

Meet our expert.

Barbara DePree, MD, is a gynecologist in private practice and director of Women’s Midlife Services at Michigan’s Holland Hospital. A Certified Menopause Practitioner, she is the founder of MiddlesexMD.com, an educational resource for women’s sexual health in perimenopause and beyond. To ask her a question, send an email to health@firstforwomen.com.

The Question of Bras and Breast Cancer

Q: I’ve been sleeping in my bra to avoid sagging, but my sister says this can cause breast cancer. Should I be worried?

A: Please don’t be alarmed. Wearing a restrictive bra overnight can prevent the lymphatic system from performing nightly drainage that flushes wastes and disease-causing toxins from breast tissue, but there is little evidence tying it to an increased risk of breast cancer.

In any case, I can suggest other strategies that are more effective at combating sagging, which occurs when ligaments that support the breasts lose elasticity and collagen (due to age, gravity, and hormonal fluctuations). First, ensure your bra is the correct size and supports you properly (something that can be confirmed at a bra fitting). And you can get a natural lift and strengthening of chest wall muscles by doing push-ups on the floor or against a wall to tone the pectoral muscles underneath the breast tissue.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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