Disclaimer: All information on this page is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
What is fibrocystic breast disease?
In Western countries such as
Australia, a large percentage of women experience benign (non-cancerous) but often quite painful cysts and lumps in their breasts. A breast duct becomes blocked, fills up with fluid like a balloon filled with water. That is the cystic component of fibrocystic disease. The area around that blocked duct then has the tendency to form scar tissue and that's the fibrous component of the fibrocystic disease.
Many women, and unfortunately many doctors, think that fibrocystic breast disease is a "normal" condition for women. Some even say that it is not a "disease." However, fibrocystic breast disease has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer
by over 30 medical and scientific studies, not to mention the pain the women
experience, so women need to be concerned about pain and cysts in their
breasts and not let it go on thinking it is 'normal'.
Medical anthropologists Sydney Singer and Soma Grismaijer, in a study of over 4000
women, found that women who do not wear bras have a much lower risk of
breast cancer ("Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras"
Avery Press, 1995).
Singer and Grismaijer, and also Dr. Gregory Heigh, have found that around 90% of fibrocystic
patients improve when they quit wearing bras.
But fortunately there is an easy solution that works for most (though not for all): many women have found that by wearing undergarments less restrictive than bras (camisoles, tank tops, etc.) they can dramatically reduce or eliminate fibrocystic cysts and pain. Read here some case histories of how women who got help from fibrocystic cysts and pain by taking bra off.
You can also consider eating a high-fiber diet that emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts. Eating fish, especially fatty fish that contains omega-3 fats like salmon, trout, sardines, and mackerel, can be helpful.
One study studied a high dose vitamin A in women who did not get help for their breast pain from eliminating caffeine, and 80% of them had a dramatic reduction in the pain level. You are safer though getting vitamin A from consuming betacarotene, since high doses of vitamin A can be toxic. Vegetables that are bright red, orange, yellow, or dark green contain high amounts of betacarotene. Also helpful nutrients could be vitamin E, iodine, and essential fatty acids.
Since fibrocystic breast condition is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer, you may benefit from a diet that helps prevent breast cancer.
The British study on bra wearing and breast pain
In year 2000, two breast surgeons started a study including 100 women at two breast clinics (all of whom had breast pain) and found that over half of the pre-menopausal women with pain found relief when they quit wearing bras for three months. For some the pain relief was very dramatic, changing their lives. When they resumed bra wearing for the last three months of the study, the pain returned. Besides the pain data, the doctors also showed video thermography footage that dramatically demonstrated the heat build-up from bra wearing, and they discussed the possible connections with cancer causation.
They also made a documentary film that was shown
on nationwide television in Britain. The following is
a press release from Channel 4 UK (England), for the documentary on the
connection between bras and breast pain.
BRAS - THE BARE FACTS
Thursday, November 2, 10pm
Background Briefing document
Dispatches set out to explore the link between wearing a bra and breast pain - and the implications that has for other breast illnesses. It is estimated that 2 in 5 British women suffer from breast pain. It can be a debilitating illness - and there is no treatment. Some women who suffer from breast pain also have cysts. Other studies have examined the link between breast pain and breast cancer, but this requires further research in Britain.
Dispatches asked 100 women who suffered from breast pain in Wales and Avon to go without a bra for three months. They were then asked to return to wearing a bra for a further three months and measure any differences in breast pain and cysts.
The two medical experts who divided the experiment between their clinics are:
ROBERT MANSEL - Professor of Surgery at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. He has studied breast pain for 25 years.
SIMON CAWTHORN is a consultant surgeon at the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol. He is a specialist in the area of breast treatment.
On average, for pre-menopausal women, they found that the number of totally pain-free days went up by 7% which is regarded as significant for a problem that is otherwise so hard to treat. They are confident that this research warrants further investigation into the links between bra wearing and breast pain and cysts.
Several other studies have shown a link between breast pain and breast cancer. For example, French researchers at the University of Paris Necker Hospital have found that women with monthly breast pain have double the risk of getting breast cancer. They ascertained that statistically, pain can be as significant a risk factor as a family history of cancer.
It is important to note that this study had a significant effect on pre-menopausal women with breast pain. Post-menopausal women did not benefit as much from not wearing a bra.
Both Mansel and Cawthorne are clear that there is no medical benefit to be obtained from wearing a bra. It does not stop sagging of the breast. Dispatches approached Playtex who confirmed that they are aware that there are no medical benefits.
There are several theories as to why bras may cause breast pain. The fact that bras heat the breast is one theory, while the compression of channels leading from the breast to the lymph nodes through the structure of the bra is another. More research needs to be done into this area.
Continue to read a partial transcript of the documentary
concerning bra wearing and breast pain
Sources and resources
Dietary advice for Fibrocystic Breast Disease by Dr. Susan M. Lark
Breast cysts - supplements, herbs, and what else you can do
Treatment of benign breast disease with vitamin A.
Prev Med. 1984 Sep;13(5):549-54. In this study, 9 out of 12 patients greatly benefited from a high dose of vitamin A.
Adolescent diet and incidence of proliferative benign breast disease. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2003 Nov;12(11 Pt 1):1159-67.
This study found that the intake of vegetable fat, vitamin E, and fiber during teen years were inversely associated with risk of proliferative benign breast disease.
Dietary and reproductive factors associated with benign breast disease in Mexican women. Nutr Cancer. 2002;43(2):133-40. Consumption of citrus fruit, non-citrus fruit, dairy products, and food sources of lignans were associated with lower risk of benign breast disease. (Lignans are found most abundantly in flaxseed; wheat bran, rye, buckwheat, millet, soy beans and oats have small amounts.)