Dressed to Kill (book)

Dressed to Kill is a book by Singer and Grismaijer that proposes a link between bras and breast cancer. According to the authors, the restrictive nature of a brassiere inhibits the lymphatic system. The book's claim that bras cause breast cancer is unanimously regarded as unfounded by the medical and scientific communities; the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the National Institutes of Health have all concluded that there is no link between bra use and breast cancer.


Singer and Grismaijer claim they collected evidence that bra-wearing may be a major cause of breast cancer because of the effect the bra has on lymphatic circulation. Their interpretation is that constriction from tightly worn bras inhibit the proper functioning of the lymphatic system and leads to a buildup of fluid within the breast tissue, a condition called lymphedema. In addition, they claim carcinogenic substances that we take into our bodies through petrochemically polluted food, air and water course throughout the body, including the breast tissue, and need to be flushed from the tissues by the lymphatic system. Hence, bra-induced constriction of the breast lymphatic vessels, according to the authors, concentrates these toxins within the breast tissue, which may ultimately lead to cancer. In short, carcinogenic chemicals cause breast cancer, while the bra concentrates these chemicals within the breast tissue by preventing proper lymphatic drainage.

Singer and Grismaijer claim seventy percent of breast cancer cases are unexplainable by current [as of 1995] known risk factors. In addition, the authors claim that breast cancer is only a problem in cultures where women wear bras; in bra-free cultures, breast cancer is a rare event. Their 1991-93 Bra and Breast Cancer Study, discussed in Dressed To Kill, found that women who wear a bra 24 hours a day are 125 times more likely to have breast cancer than women who are bra-free. Their study also claims that bra-free women have about the same incidence of breast cancer as men.

Singer and Grismaijer claim to have noticed that the Māori of New Zealand, who are integrated into white culture and therefore wear bras, have the same rate of breast cancer, while the aboriginals of Australia, who are bra-free, have practically no breast cancer. The same was true for “Westernized” Japanese, Fijians and other bra-converted cultures. Breast cancer rates rise in these cultures as the usage of bras increases.

Singer and Grismaijer's 1991-93 Bra and Breast Cancer Study examined the bra wearing attitudes and behaviors of over 4,700 US women in 5 major cities. They claim about half of the women questioned had had breast cancer. Women who had had breast cancer were asked about their bra wearing habits prior to their diagnosis of cancer. Their study, which they claim was a medical anthropology study and not an epidemiological one, was meant to be an initial examination of a possible bra/cancer link. Although they did not adhere to any scientific protocols for a medical study, the authors hoped that the medical industry would follow-up with further research to either verify or refute their findings. Their study findings were:

  • 3 out of 4 women who wore their bras 24 hours per day developed breast cancer.
  • 1 out of 7 women who wore bras more than 12 hour per day but not to bed developed breast cancer.
  • 1 out of 152 women who wore their bras less than 12 hours per day got breast cancer.
  • 1 out of 168 women who wore bras rarely or never acquired breast cancer.

These findings were first sent to various entities in the medical industry, cancer organizations, and women's groups, but were completely ignored. The authors then published "Dressed to Kill" to get the information directly to the public. The book generated controversy which the authors attributed the greed of the fashion and medical industries: "The bra industry is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. And billions of dollars are spent each year researching and treating this disease. Ironically, ending breast cancer can cause financial hardship for many people." In another rebuttal to critics of their work, they claim the mainstream medical organizations all denied the link between smoking and lung cancer for decades after the initial research was published.

Singer and Grismaijer also felt that bra-related illnesses, as part of fashion and culture, were a "culturogenic" disease.

About the authors

The authors are a husband-and-wife team who describe themselves as pioneers in "applied medical anthropology". They are the founders and co-directors of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease (ISCD), located in Hawaii. Sydney Ross Singer received a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Utah in 1979. He then enrolled in PhD training in biochemistry at Duke University, and later transferred to the PhD program in anthropology, also at Duke University. Duke University gave him a master's degree in anthropology when he left the PhD program there. Singer later attended the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, where he entered but did not complete the MD/PhD program.

Soma Grismaijer holds a bachelor's degree in environmental studies and planning. She was trained as an optician (a healthcare worker who fits eyeglasses and contact lenses), and is not licensed in their home state of Hawaii.

After self-publishing Dressed to Kill, they wrote another book about the dangers of wearing bras and several other books, in which they argue that sleeping on a tilted bed can prevent everything from Alzheimer's disease to impotence; that defecating, urinating and sweating more frequently and more copiously can prevent many conditions such as prostate enlargement and the symptoms associated with menopause; and, in The Doctor Is Out! Exposing the High Blood Pressure, Low Thyroid and Diabetes Scams, even that these three lifestyle changes can prevent high blood pressure, low thyroid conditions, and diabetes. This last book also argues that physicians overlook these solutions at least in part because they do not earn any money from a healthy patient.

They founded the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease in 1991. All of their books are self-published through ISCD Press.

They live in Hawaii, on a 67-acre rainforest area that they have set up as a sanctuary for the invasive, non-native coqui tree frog species. Their current focus is on the dangers of sleeping on a horizontal surface.


According to the authors, Singer and Grismaijer, their conclusions were not well received by the mainstream scientific community.

One specific critique of the their book by Martha Molete of the Cancer Association of South Africa claims that the research "cannot be taken seriously" for the following reasons:

  1. Lack of controlled epidemiological data correlating bra-wearing with the risk for breast cancer
  2. Lack of proof that the pressure exerted by a bra reduces the flow of lymph
  3. Lack of proof that lymph contains carcinogens
  4. Lack of proof that there are carcinogens in the human body that can induce breast cancer
  5. Existence of published data correlating obesity with post-menopausal breast cancer

Importantly, none of the authors' surveys have attempted to account for any of the well-known epidemiological risk factors for breast cancer, such as number of full-term pregnancies, age at first pregnancy, obesity, Western pattern diet, or use of medications such as hormone replacement therapy. Per Molete "the authors' statistical treatment of their obtained data appears to be flawed. They do not include the data or a detailed description of the statistical treatment of the data. The two groups, i.e. those wearing bras and those that did not, were not controlled for many other factors influencing the risk of breast cancer."

No supporting research

According to critics of the book, a survey of the Medline database revealed no publication supporting a casual link between bra wearing and increased breast cancer risk.Furthermore no scientific publications were found which were authored by Singer or Grismaijer.

Scientific counter hypothesis

The Molete article also discusses the one scientific study that examined the relationship between breast cancer and bra use. This study among 3,918 cases and 11,712 controls from 7 centers in the United States found that premenopausal women who do not wear bras had half the risk of breast cancer compared with bra users (P about 0.09). The authors offer the hypothesis that this may be because women who do not wear bras are thinner and likely to have smaller breasts. The same study found that among postmenopausal women only bra users with larger breasts had an increased risk of breast cancer (P about 0.026). The study suggests bra cup size is a proxy for greater weight and obesity which are known risk factors for breast cancer.

Opposing views

Other mainstream professional organizations also uniformly reject this hypothesis:

  • The National Cancer Institute (US) lists many risk factors for breast cancer and states that bras have not been shown to increase a woman's risk of breast cancer.
  • specifically answers this question, relating to bras and how breasts are touched.
  • The American Cancer Society states, "There are no scientifically valid studies that show wearing bras of any type causes breast cancer."
  • The National Institutes of Health states, "Breast implants, using antiperspirants, and wearing underwire bras do not raise your risk for breast cancer."


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