Cancer Detecting Bra?

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could be tested for a scary disease just by putting your underwear on? This could soon become reality. Scientists from the Centre for Research and Innovation at the University of Bolton in the United Kingdom, led by Professor Elias Siores, are using an existing technique for detecting breast cancer at its early stages. The new bra could potentially make sure the patient gets treatment as soon as possible and make testing more accessible for the general public.

Professor Elias Siores (Credit: The University of Bolton)
Professor Elias
Siores (Credit: The
University of Bolton)

An innovative bra currently under development might be able to detect the cancerous growths before they spread to additional areas, thus preventing metastasis and a more severe course of disease. It is important to catch breast cancer at its early stages when the treatment is easier and has greater chances of success. The bra will notify the wearer of a problem and advise them to seek professional help.

Thermography is a type of infrared imaging science. A thermographic camera detects changes in the infrared radiation range and produces images of this radiation. This technique makes warm objects to stand out in the colder background. For example, humans and animals stand out in the night opposed to their environment and therefore we are mostly familiar with these cameras in their military use.

The bra can use this technique because of the way cancerous tissue stands out metabolically against the healthy background tissues. Since tumors are constantly growing, they need a greater blood flow to supply them with nutrients and oxygen. The cells begin secreting blood vessel attracting molecules and this causes blood vessels to sprout into the tumor. A greater blood flow causes temperature to be elevated.

The bra uses a series of microwave antennae which are designed to pick up changes of the heat level inside the breast. These antennae can be easily incorporated into the fabric of the bra. The information on temperature abnormalities is collected and transferred via conducting polymers. This information is then analyzed by a separate controller unit which then sets off an alarm if the normal breast tissue temperature is exceeded.

However, there are some problems with thermography as a cancer detecting technique. Benign growths and inflammatory processes are not rare and they attract blood vessels as much as early stage tumors. This would mean a healthy process would elicit a false positive response on the scan. Any suspicious finding will have to undergo further analysis by some other means of scanning, such as mammography.

Yet Professor Siores remains optimistic, envisioning the bra’s entrance into the market to happen in the next few years. Although not the best scanning tool, the bra has further advantages. It could help evaluate the effectiveness of breast cancer treatment the wearer is undergoing. Also, this bra may help women that are procrastinating or scared of going to a mammography. The availability and simplicity of the testing tool may increase the percentage of women getting tested and treated for this disease and decrease mortality rates.

TFOT has recently covered a new method for generating a personalized melanoma vaccination developed by a team from the Hadassah Medical Organization and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. We have also brought you a device using infra red imaging for the detection of bruises developed at Georgia Institute of Technology.

The Press release from the Centre for Research and Innovation at the University of Bolton can be found here.

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