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Your Friday Dose of Woo: It’s not just a breast massage, it’s a Brassage!

I’m tired of blogging about anti-vaccine nonsense again. Don’t get me wrong, I had an enormous amount of fun writing my commentary on Fire Marshal Bill’s attempt to explain vaccine/autism pseudoscience. It was a hoot, if I do say so myself, but it depresses me that writing such posts is so necessary so often. Fortunately, it’s Friday, and you know what that means (well, at least some of the time, anyway). That’s right, it’s time for some woo.

This time around, it’s not just any woo. In fact, it’s woo that relates to my area of expertise. As you may recall, I do a lot of breast cancer surgery, and I run a lab the focus of whose research is breast cancer. And what woo it is! it’s a shame that it may now be off the market. Well, not really, and it’s not even clear to me that it is off the market. After all, you can still buy Airborne, even though the company was fined millions for making exaggerated and false advertising claims. I still occasionally see Enzyte “male enhancement” commercials even though the company that makes Enzyte was similarly fined big time and its CEO is facing a prison term. So, I’m not surprised that I’m still seeing the website for the Brassage pushing the same woo. What is the Brassage, you ask?

It’s serious, serious woo. Indeed, it claims to be able to “stimulate” lymphatic flow in the breasts and thereby–well, why don’t you take a guess what “stimulation” of lymphatic flow in the breasts will do, ignoring for the moment that a bra isn’t going to stimulate lymphatic flow in the breasts?

That’s right! The Brassage eliminates…TOXINS! And it does it through what it calls the “LETflow” technology. Apparently LETflow stands for Lymphtic Enhancing Technology, Ltd., which leads me to be embarrassed that I just repeated “technology” twice when I referred to LETflow technology. Oh, well. If you’re a woman, I’m sure you’re way more interested in knowing what this technology can do for you. If you’re a man, you’re probably more interesting in how many bad breast jokes I can come up with by deconstructing this woo. I’m actually not so sure myself. I’m more interested in the wonders of the LETflow technology:

Developed over the past eight years by a team of doctors, engineers, and designers, LETflow’s Technology transforms the brassiere from mere support and style to the blending of fashion and breast wellness. This evolution is vitally important since a LETflow Technology bra can stimulate the natural ability of a woman’s immune system to cleanse breast tissues of harmful toxins and cellular debris when the bra is worn.

This cleansing of toxins is aided by the unique design of the patented LETflow Technology “bra side-panel” (US Patent #5940888), which undetectably micro-massages the tissue above and around the sensitive lymphatic vessels, promoting and enhancing the body’s natural breast cleansing flow. The natural flow of these toxins can be impaired by the constrictive pressure of traditional elastic side panels in conventional brassieres.

Wow. It sounds like real research, the operative words being “sounds like.” I was curious, however, just what was included in the patent referenced, so I looked it up. The device was patented under the term Lymphatic circulation enhancer, and if you ever want evidence that having a patent on a device does not necessarily mean that the device is actually based on science, this patent is it. If you look in the patent text, you’ll find right there that woo of woo, that woo that permeates virtually all aspects of “alternative” medicine. That’s right, I’m talking detox woo, baby, and it’s all right there on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website:

Because the lymph nodes filter out unwanted matter drained from the tissues by the lymphatics, they are central to the prevention of disease. In addition, the lymph nodes are the site of much white blood cell and antibody manufacture. These cells are key players in a body’s immune system. When the lymph nodes detect foreign objects such as bacteria, toxins, or even cancer cells, they activate the synthesis of the immune system. Sometimes this process causes the lymph nodes to swell painfully, as well can be the case with sore throats and cysts (which in breast tissues are mostly swollen lymph nodes). Tissue that is drained constantly will be cleansed of these toxins, whereas tissue that is congested and sluggishly drained may keep its toxin reservoir for long periods of time, concentrating the exposure. Over the years, this may result in tissues having a relatively high toxin exposure, compared with the freely draining tissue. Over 85% of the lymph fluid flowing form the breasts drains to the armpit, or axillary lymph nodes, If anything were to constrict the flow of lymph from the breast, there would be poor drainage of the breast tissue. Due to the active fluid pressure from the heart, it takes a large amount of pressure to affect the blood vascular system but it does not take much force to affect the flow of the lymph vessels. Slight pressure, such as soft tissue compression, can negatively influence flow within the vessels.

Considering the manner in which a woman’s bra is constructed and the lymphatic drainage described above, it appears to be clear that armpit lymph nodes and the lymphtics leading to them are constricted by a bra. It is also well known that there is an increased danger due to exposure to toxins in our environment. These toxins enter all the tissues of the body and are drained by the lymphatic system. The lymph nodes filter the lymph fluid of contaminants and the liver helps process the toxins for disposal from the body. Constriction of the lymph system by a woman’s bra prevents normal drainage of the lymph fluid, keeping toxins concentrated within the breast tissue for a much longer period of time, where the toxins can do damage including transforming normal cells into mutated cells.

Thus, the immune system of the breast, being hampered by the bra, is unable to drain the tissue, filter out toxins and repair damage.

This is all complete and utter nonsense, of course. It’s woo. Big time. In normal breasts and normal women who have not had axillary lymph node surgery, there’s no evidence that normal bras will impair lymphatic flow, much less in such a way that causes disease, and there’s certainly no evidence that a “microfluidic” bra like this will do anything. Let me mention an analogy. When doing breast cancer surgery, we usually do a procedure that’s called a sentinel lymph node biopsy. The principle is simple: A radioactive dye or a blue dye is injected into the breast near the tumor. The dye is taken up into the lymphatics of the breast, where they flow to the axillary lymph nodes under the arm. The surgeon then visually identifies a blue lymph node (in the case of blue dye) or uses a gamma probe to find a radioactive lymph node (in the case of the radioactive dye.) This node is called the sentinel node and is the first lymph node that a tumor cell would hit if it broke into the lymph vessels and started spreading to the lymph nodes, and the absence of tumor there correlates highly with the absence of tumor in the rest of the axillary lymph nodes. The advantage of the sentinel lymph node procedure is that, if negative, it spares breast cancer patients a full removal of the lymph nodes.

Often both radioactive and blue dyes are injected, with the radioactive dye injected a couple of hours before surgery and the blue dye injected right after the induction of anesthesia. Here’s the kicker relevant to the Brassage: In order to stimulate real lymph flow and get the blue dye to flow to the axillary lymph nodes, surgeons will vigorously massage the breast for five minutes. The thing is, it takes vigorous massage to get the lymph flowing. That mamby-pamby “microfluidic” massage in the Brassage just won’t cut it. Even if it did, there’s no evidence that impaired lymphatic drainage has anything to do with cancer, other than in the extreme case of women who develop lymphedema from previous removal of axillary lymph nodes. Yes, it’s true, LETflow lays down a whole bunch of science-y sounding arguments just for practitioners like me. The problem is that most of the science-y stuff is irrelevant to the question of whether the Brassage does anything:

Tissue that is congested and/or sluggishly cleansed may keep toxic reservoirs in pockets of lymphatic fluid called Lymphatic Lakes in the intracellular areas for long periods of time adversely affecting the homeostasis of the cellular environment.

The reference used to support this contention? This:

Lymphatic Drainage of the Skin and Breast: Locating the Sentinel Nodes; Jun 1999
Roger F. Uren, John F. Thompson, Robert B. Howman-Giles. T&F STM Publishing

In simple terms the lymphatic system develops in most tissues to act as the drainage system for metabolic debris, fluids and leaked plasma protein.

The skin and the breast like most tissues develop an extensive system of lymphatic capillaries to act as their drainage.

Occasionally along the course of collecting vessels focal dilation of the vessel occurs where there is a pooling of lymph. These Lymphatic Lakes can sometimes be quite large reaching several millimeters in diameter on rare occasions a series of Lymphatic Lakes can be seen along the course of a single lymphatic vessel. The collecting lymphatic vessels lie deeper than the initial lymphatics and are much straighter in their course than the initial lymphatics, they tend to run parallel to each other lying in the subcutaneous fat.

In other words, it’s not a peer-reviewed article, and even the description of the text provided has little relationship to what is claimed. In any case, a lot of what’s there is in fact scientific literature from the early days of sentinel lymph node biopsy, when the technique was being worked out and the lymphatic drainage of the breast was being mapped in more detail than it had ever been mapped before. True, the mapping wasn’t as way cool as the cool Flash animations all over the LET website, but they did give us a lot of information about the lymph system in the breast.

But, hey, I’m obviously just a big pharma shill worried that the Brassage will decrease the rate of breast cancer and thereby cut down on my business. So real believers won’t believe me when I say that the following is a load of horse hockey:

Dr. Sher’s research further confirmed that enhancing the lymphatic circulation through this vital area could significantly boost the immune system’s natural ability to cleanse and protect the mammary cells from the accumulation and concentration of toxins.

After seven years of analyzing scientific data compiled by medical doctors, scientists, holistic practitioners, massage therapists and academics, Dr. Sher along with a team of medical advisors, engineers, designers, and consultants, successfully developed LETflow, a revolutionary design technology that is manufactured directly into the side panels of the bra.

Wow! He analyzed scientific data. Unfortunately, it sure doesn’t sound as though he did any–you know–actual research of his own. In fact, if you look at his list of sources, it becomes apparent that most of them are not peer-reviewed and/or have little or nothing to do with Sher’s contention that changing lymphatic drainage has all the amazing health benefits attributed to it. Given the sheer amount of woo on the LET website, I was curious about Sher. So I looked:

Dr. Jayson Sher, D.C., Q.M.E.

Dr. Jayson Sher has been a Doctor of Chiropractic in private practice since 1975. Dr. Sher is a holistic practitioner currently specializing in postural bio-dynamics, exercise rehabilitation and injuries of the spine and extremities. Dr. Sher is a Diplomat of the California State Board of Chiropractic Examiners and a Diplomat of the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, State of California Qualified Medical Examiner and Diplomat of the American Board of Disability Analysts. In addition, he has been a medical consultant to leading companies since 1975, including Life International, Joe Weider International, SunWest Industries, Pneumopaedic Products, and Creative Products Development. Dr. Sher graduated from Cleveland Chiropractic College in 1974.

It figures. Only a chiropractor with delusions of grandeur (i.e., a chiropractor who thinks he can do anything more than what a good physical therapist can do) could come up with woo so potent.

You may wonder where I originally learned of the Brassage. Surprisingly, it was in a WebMD article from three weeks ago, which also correctly noted that there is no good scientific evidence linking the wearing of bras, or specific bras, to breast cancer. Obviously, though, it’s a big conspiracy by Big Bra to cover up The Truth, as an anonymous commenter tells us:

But the link between bras and breast cancer is real. The ACS is covering-up this important information, and refuses to do follow-up research into the bra/cancer issue. It is an embarassment to the medical industry that they have ignored the bra in their research into breast disease. It’s like ignoring tight shoes when researching foot disease. The ACS is also interested in treating this disease, not in preventing it, which makes no money for the medical/cancer industry.

As for the bra/cancer link, medical anthropologist researchers Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer have conducted groundbreaking research, discussed in their book Dressed To Kill, showing that constriction from bras is the leading cause of breast cancer. Essentially, bra-free women have about the same incidence of breast cancer as men. And a Harvard study in 1991 found bra-free women had a much lower incidence of breast cancer as bra wearing women.

More research is needed, but the medical industry is avoiding and suppressing the issue. Women should try going bra-free to see for themselves what effect it has on their breast health. Unfortunately, you can’t trust the medical industry to admit that they have ignored the major cause of breast cancer, as well as of fibrocystic breast disease.

Wow! Bra-free women have the same rate of breast cancer as men? Does this commenter know how uncommon male breast cancer is? Personally, I’ve only seen two cases in ten years of practice. If only it were that simple. As for the studies that supposedly linked breast cancer to wearing bras, suffice it to say that they have not–if you’ll excuse the term–held up to continued scrutiny. (I know. I’m sorry. I just couldn’t resist.) Fortunately, for us, though, the dedicated woo-meisters at Intimate Health, the makers of the Brassage, are fighting back against this male hegemony.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

43 replies on “Your Friday Dose of Woo: It’s not just a breast massage, it’s a Brassage!”

You know what would be interesting: to get the bras-cause-most-breast-cancer cranks to sit down with the induced-abortions-cause-most-breast-cancer idiots and have them duke it out for the stupidest idea award.

Seriously, we usually combat this type of nonsense with evidence and reason. The real solution is to have the cranks debate amongst themselves. I would pay money to see that debate, though I’d probably have to get sht-faced drunk before hand just to tolerate it.

Hmm…this woo sounds strangely appealing. I’ve never seriously considered a career as a snake oil salesman before. Sounds like a job with great benefits, particularly given the aptitude of vapid former playmates for the indulgence of quackery.

According to a couple of web sources I’ve seen, this product was pulled off the market the same day ABC’s “Good Morning America” did a story on it.

I imagine there are some men of dubious ethics who are disappointed that the idea hasn’t taken off, because they could’ve used a sleazy makeout ploy. “Hey baby, let me massage away your toxins.”

Wait, so if women don’t wear a bra their incidences of breast cancer drop to near zero (as seen in men). Then wouldn’t this product be un-healthy by their own standards??? If no bra is best then why would a micro-massage bra be better than none at all?

I do have a friend who is into serious woo, really really heavy. He does energy healing but not Reiki (sp) as he has “powers beyond” that of the great masters. So he does energy work on breasts and I’m thinking oh crap if I call it energy work I get to cop a feel and occasionally get paid to do so. Not only does it work all the time but he actually believes it.

For me, the big red flag was the phrase “undetectably micro-massages”. For one, if it’s undetectable, how can you know it’s working? For another, who wants undetectable micro-massages?

Clearly, more research must be done on “vigorous massage” and breast health. Or emotional health. Either way.

I can see where this is going. “Hey baby, I’d love to help you rid your DD-cups of their toxins.” nudge, nudge. wink, wink.

The manipulation of lymphatic is one of the more popular modalities used in Osteopathy (I differentiate between Osteopathy and Physicians who just happen to have DO rather than MD behind their name). They like to claim that using a lymphatic pump technique osteopaths were more successful than MD’s in treating the 1918 Influenza.

Wow, Harry, that’s a helluva claim on the osteopaths’ part.

I looked at the Brassage website. It doesn’t show anyone modeling the bras, but I can’t help but picture it as a piece of throbbing and undulating underwear.

It seems to me that if a woman wants a breast massage, she should find a suitable partner whose company she enjoys to do it, not just buy an expensive bra…

@Rogue Epidemiologist:

Follow me. Follow me. That’s good, that’s good! A nod’s as good as a wink to a blind bat!

@ Rogue Epidemiologist

I’m a 1st year DO student (almost 2nd year! woohoo!!!!) and 95% of what we learn is identical to MD students. It’s not like we use a special edition of Netter’s Gross Anatomy or Robbins Pathology or Cecils Internal Medicine… but that last 5%…. DAMN!

Foundations of Osteopathic Medicine is the American Osteopathic Association’s approved big-book-of-osteopathy. Go to chapter 68 on Lymphatic System: Lymphatic Manipulative Techniques on page 1056. It will make you cry, so have tissues on hand.

Next on The Factor. Can going bra-less prevent cancer? Will vigorous massage cure breast cancer? I take a hands on look at this growing field of research.

I’ve come to the conclusion that finding the phrase “eliminating toxins” is one of the best and quickest ways to identify woo. It’s like the way you can be pretty sure that you’re dealing with a creationist as soon as you hear the word “darwinist”.

Honestly, that last 5% and a few run-ins with some asshat DO’s turned me off applying to DO schools. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m glad it suits you okay. FWIW, my PCP is a DO.

I do have a med library literally under my feet, so I might have to go for some leisurely lunchtime reading.

And where do you suppose such volunteers are to be found?

All that is well and good, but what I want to know – does it actually massage my breasts? In the privacy of my cubicle? Who cares about eliminating toxins? Sign me up!

Theory that bras cause cancer is correct, mechanism of induction is flawed…
It is common knowledge that vision rays — the rays that cause windshield wipers to fail at the point directly in your line of vision(1) — are also the primary cause of breast cancer…. Since bras enhance what nature provided, bra-wearing-individuals are going to receive a higher dose of vision rays.
(1) Ask Dr Science

The first thing I thought of was the “Silly Cone” episode from Season Three of In Living Color. See, since silicone breast implants are now a no-go, another way had to be found to market all these suddenly unwanted bags of goo Eureka! Rename them “Silly Cones” and pitch them as a combination Slinky, hackysack and stress relief device.

By the way, the person demonstrating Silly Cone’s “stress relief” potential, in the guise of an executive sitting at his desk with the Leer of Leers on his face, was none other than Jim Carrey.

So I get my breast massaged, and I can make some rationalization for ingesting extra toxins???? This is the first time Orac has written about woo with so much appeal.

There is a pretty strong correlation between bra sales and breast cancer survival rates over the past century.

OTP but my father got breast cancer around 1990 ans still lives, although his hair fell out for a while.

Damn, that woo is bustin’ out all over. Very enjoyable, EXCEPT–Orac, somehow YFDOW just isn’t the same without images, and this one in particular just screams out for illustration–truly a missed opportunity for additional insolent lulz. I know your schedule must be jam-packed with BigPharma-funded junkets to Aruba and whatnot, but don’t you have some laboratory minion with photoshop skillz to help out with such things?

Hmmm…massaging bras, huh? If you don’t mind, I’ll stick to the usual kind of bra and ask my usual helper for the massage.

What an, um, innovative product. Interestingly, looking at their schematic, the micro massage all seems to take place in the side panel. I don’t know who’s fitting their bras, but that bit really ought to sit against the ribcage. Perhaps rib-massage didn’t have quite the same ring to it?

Hilarious woo, bad breast jokes, and I learned about sentinel lymph node biopsies. Wow, this is the penultimate FDOW ever. Orac wins the booby prize!

So does this mean I have toxic breasts?? I nursed all four of my kids. Two of them have autism-oh no!I feel an anti-breast movment happening. Alert Genrescue!

@Rogue Epidemiologist
Honestly, that last 5% and a few run-ins with some asshat DO’s turned me off applying to DO schools. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m glad it suits you okay. FWIW, my PCP is a DO.

I’ve found that there are asshats will all sorts of degrees, MD, DO, PhD. You gotta do what you gotta do about school. For me it was more important to stay in town than to go to a Caribbean Med School.

But Vigorous Breast Massage (tm pending) has been proven to cause Autism! Oh Noes!!!!!111!!!

Really, what people will do to get a date….

Well are they going to extend this amazing ‘micromassage'(tm) tech into other product lines?

I mean a line of mircomassage(tm) jockstraps and panties to prevent prostate/cervical cancer would sell very well I think. 😉

I could actually see not wearing bras being correlated with less breast cancer: Women who don’t wear bras probably have smaller breasts – women with larger breasts would find it much more uncomfortable. It wouldn’t surprise me if smaller breasts had less breast cancer, whether from just having less cells for things to go wrong in or from a secondary correlation with hormone levels.

Not that that doesn’t make this who thing a load of horsepucky.

So, in an ideal breast cancer free world, women run around without bras while at the same time vigorously massaging their breasts…
I’ll be in my bunk for a while.

LC, check out the Magnetic Massage healthy panties. They’re for women and men. “For men, it is for the prevention of ailments of the prostate gland. It is capable of maintaining the normal functioning of the prostate gland and prevents ailments.”

They kind of look like granny panties, though. Few guys would be willing to wear these to the gym.

I’m not buying it. I’m sticking to home remedies administered by my husband.

Considering the manner in which a woman’s bra is constructed and the lymphatic drainage described above, it appears to be clear that armpit lymph nodes and the lymphtics leading to them are constricted by a bra.

I swear I read something like this back in the early ’70s.

On a semi-related note, I’ve been dipping into The Portable Atheist, edited by Christopher Hitchens, and came upon Bertrand Russell’s note that a prominent RC bishop pronounced that it was all right “to fondle a nun’s breasts in the confessional, as long as the priest did it without evil thoughts.”

Women who wear bras all the time probably have bigger breasts, on average, which makes it harder to find a lump early. They also have more cells to go wrong. Sigh.

I’m with ildi (#18). A bra that massages my breasts all day? I am so there. These people need to skip the woo and just pitch this thing as a vibrating bra.

Oh, wait. That’s right. The massage is “undetectable.”

Well, where’s the sport in that?

The responses to this blog are very revealing of the reason why breast cancer is still an epidemic in this culture. The subject of breasts and breast massage seems to bring out the child in some people. Regardless of the validity of the product’s claims, breast massage is not a joking issue. And lymphatics can become compressed by bras, impairing lymph flow from the breast tissue to the lymph nodes. Women who eliminate bra wearing often experience a reduction of breast cysts, which are filled with lymph fluid. As for the bra/cancer link, there is no study to refute it, while a Harvard study supported it, as well as the research by medical anthropologists Singer and Grismaijer.
The Brassage is clearly wanting to capitalize on this information, and their product claims lack scientific validation. However, the bra/cancer issue is real. The problem is that the issue of breasts, massage, and bras is so imbued with sexuality and discomfort by western culture that the mere discussion of the topic sends people into spasms of immaturity. Very funny stuff, bras and breasts. Until you get cancer, and realize it could have been prevented by loosening up on the bra.

@Adam and Mondano; the nurses in the building I used to work in had a set of fake breasts in varying sizes so you could check your breast examination technique. Finding the lump in the A cup was easy; in the D it could take several minutes, even with knowing that there *was* a lump to be found.

@Sol – I have D cup breasts. I wear bras so I can run for the bus without being in agony. Being raised in a lefty-feminist home I really don’t have a lot of issues about breasts beyond the practical. You present no evidence for your assertion, nor any practical options for me to go bra-less without having a radical mastectomy (which definitely does prevent breast cancer).

You are so right- there is nothing funny about breasts…or Brassage. (bwahhahaha – there goes my drink!)

These folks are chasing the wrong market: this device should be used to treat temporomandibular joint disorder.

Clearly, there’s an unmet need for this: A dentist in Woodland, California was recently sentenced to six years in prison for massaging the breasts of female patients to relieve TMJ-related pain. (It seems that none of his male patients complained of TMJ pain.) If he had only prescribed a bra, Mark Anderson would still be a free man.

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