Why Boobs Matter (in Skepticism and Elsewhere)
There’s been a lot of talk about boobs lately so I thought today would be a good time to take a look at some of the myths that continue to circulate around breasts. Here are 5 common stories you’ll hear about breasts and the facts behind them:
1. Underwire Bras Cause Cancer.
I still periodically get this spam and I bet you do too! It appears to have started with a book called Dressed to Kill, written by two medical anthropologists, Soma Grismaijer and Sydney Ross Singer.
The book claimed that underwire bras compress the lymphatic system under the arms and breasts, supposedly causing a buildup of toxins. This has been widely refuted by several sources. The American Cancer Society says:
We do not know of any epidemiologic studies published in scientific journals that suggest bras directly contribute to breast cancer risk or that lymphatic compression by bras might cause breast cancer.
Read more after the fold!
2. Staring at boobs is good for men’s health.
This is a claim that is often attributed (wrongly) to the New England Journal of Medicine. In fact, this study was never published in any medical journal. According to Snopes:
The article referred to above was not printed in The New England Journal of Medicine or any other major medical journal. It is, in fact, a slight reworking of a piece that has run on at least two occasions in that celebrated tabloid Fountain of Truth, the Weekly World News (13 May 1997 and 21 March 2000) and has escaped into the wild.
Yep, the Weekly World News, that bastion of fine journalism… Sorry guys.
The FDA has approved silicone gel-filled breast implants made by Allergan and Mentor.
The website does warn of several possible risks to breast implants, including the danger of rupture, a potential impact to a woman’s ability to breast feed, either by reducing or eliminating milk production and routine mammograms may be more difficult with breast implants. But no danger from the contents of the implants themselves, saline or silicone.
4. Your breast size determines how much breast milk you can produce.
Breast milk is determined by the milk glands in the breast; breast size is dependent on the amount of supporting fibrous and fatty issue in the breast. So women with larger breasts won’t necessarily produce more breast milk. Some women do have trouble producing milk or find it more painful or uncomfortable than others but that is not related to breast size.
As far as I can tell, the breast size/milk relationship is nothing more than another way to add to the insecurities that plague women with smaller breasts. You’re ‘less of a woman’ and ‘less of a mother.’ Ugh.
5. Parasites can live in unwashed underwear and cause larvae to grow in your breasts.
Oh dude. The images for this one on Snopes are hideous. I don’t recommend you look at them. Suffice it to say, they involved photoshopping a breast together with a lotus seed pod to make it seem like some sort of nasty parasite had infected a breast. There’s also a video floating about which actually does show doctors removing parasites from a woman’s breast (again, I don’t recommend watching it). This is a genuine video but is caused by the larvae of the Tumbu fly. According to a 2004 study:
Cutaneous myiasis of the breast due to infestation by the larva of Cordylobia anthropophaga is rare. To the best of our knowledge, only one case has been reported in the English literature.
What else is out there?
I only touched on a few myths here. I could have done a whole section on just breastfeeding myths or breast cancer myths. Breasts are, no pun intended, a touchy subject and people can sometimes be embarrassed to discuss. This taboo means that it’s easier for bad information to get out there and stay in the public consciousness.
So, keep in mind, there are lots of reasons that we need to keep breasts in the forefront of our minds when it comes to skeptical discussions. Our boobs depend on it!