A 'Smart Bra' to Find Breast Cancer?
Cancer doctors say hopes for the new invention may as yet be overpadded.
Oct. 12, 2007 — -- Could your bra one day detect breast cancer? One team of researchers in the United Kingdom says it is moving closer to a prototype for such an undergarment.
Called a "smart bra," the device incorporates a series of microwave antennae to detect temperature changes in the breast that point to early stage breast cancer.
Professor Elias Siores, director of the Centre for Research and Innovation at the University of Bolton in the United Kingdom and inventor of the smart bra, says the device can detect cancer before the tumor can develop and spread into the surrounding areas.
The concept at play is known as thermography, the detection of subtle temperature changes within the breast. Spot elevations in temperature, Siores says, could denote an increase to blood flow to a developing tumor.
Siores says his device would use passive microwaves, essentially bringing technology currently used to pinpoint the location of submarines and distant stars beneath the blouses of women to find breast cancer.
"If we can identify [cancer-related] transformations that emanate these heat signatures, we may be able to detect these cancers early," he said, adding that the device may even be used to evaluate the effectiveness of any breast cancer treatment its wearer is undergoing.
Siores adds that an audible or visual alarm would be incorporated into the bra, which would alert wearers to the potential need for further medical expert diagnosis and assessment.
But physicians involved in the treatment of cancer say that while thermography has been studied as a possible way to detect cancer, as yet the accuracy of such methods leaves much to be desired.
"First of all, there are benign growths and nonmalignant inflammatory changes, which might also increase blood flow," said Anne Rosenberg, a breast surgeon at Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
"Thermography has been around for 20 years, but has not been sensitive or specific enough to replace traditional imaging, such as mammography," Rosenberg said. "This technique of using the microwave antennae to pick up and record temperature changes in the breast, with an alarm if the threshold is exceeded, would need to be validated in a clinical trial to determine whether it is sensitive or specific with regard to identifying cancers … since not all of these temperature changes will be due to a cancer."
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