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Back in 2012, First Warning Systems, a US-based company, was piloting the development of a sensor that can be placed inside a bra to easily identify breast cancer in its early stages. This novel sensor was designed to monitor changes in the temperature of a cell, and changes that occur in the event of growing blood vessels surrounding a tumor. The sensor was designed to reduce the false positive and negative finding rate so that women can seek treatment at the early stages. Chronology, artificial intelligence and pattern recognition are some of the features used by a software, installed in the sensor, to detect any changes in the breast tissue, which indicate the presence of a tumor. Nowadays in 2019, the same company, now known as Cyrcadia Health, has released the smart bra technology and is operating in the markets in Asia.
According to the International Association of Cancer Registries, breast cancer is the second most frequent type of cancer in the world and the first among the female population. Breast cancer prognosis largely depends on the stage of cancer and therefore detection at an early stage can help in increasing the survival rate for patients diagnosed with this form of cancer. Thermography and 3D mammography are sophisticated techniques used to detect early breast cancer, but they can sometimes provide inconclusive results.
Breast Cancer Screening Methods
Certain screening tests can be used for easily detecting breast cancers at an early stage. The most common methods used for screening breast cancer are summarised as follows:
- Breast self-examination – This is the most common and easy method used to screen breast cancer. It involves feeling one’s own breast for any swelling, lumps or distortions. This method, though so commonly used, was proved to cause needless biopsies and was not found to affect the mortality rate due to breast cancer.
- Clinical breast examination – In this method, physicians examine the breast for any lumps that can be indicative of breast cancer. The results of this examination can be combined with a mammogram to detect early breast cancer.
- Screening mammography – This screening method can be used for the detection of breast cancer using X-rays after diagnosing the lumps or any other kind of symptoms. Microcalcifications – small clusters of calcium deposits, typically known for gathering in the mammary gland, can be detected using screening mammograms. The mammograms are combined with MRI or ultrasound images to detect breast cancers. However, it can also conclude in false-positive results.
The basic principle of the early screening system in the smart bra involves a dynamic analysis of the breast temperature in a non-invasive manner. Several computer-aided functions and many medical and mathematical disciplines are integrated together in a bioinformatics software for performing this process. The breast tissue screening bra relies on temperature-sensitive sensors integrated into a bra, and any changes in cell temperature are detected by these sensors.
The design principle to the smart bra is based on making sure these temperature sensors maintain close contact with the breast tissue to provide the most accurate and reliable reading on changes in cell temperature. The readings are then automatically sent to the Cyrcadia Health core lab for analysis through the user’s PC or mobile device. Sophisticated algorithms help analyze the data from this warning system to better understand tissue abnormality over a set testing period.
This concept is based on monitoring the growth of new blood vessels (the process of angiogenesis) and timing the body's circadian rhythm. During the growth of a new tumor, growth factors including basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) are known to promote the development of new capillaries to feed a budding tumor. When the tumor starts growing, new capillary blood vessels are needed for the growth of the cell population. This angiogenesis process produces a temperature change that is measurable. As normal tissues go through changes and become tumorous cells, they develop a unique thermal fingerprint.
By comparing this thermal profile of suspected tumorous breast tissue with the temperatures of normal breast tissue, it becomes possible to help identify the following parameters:
- The relation between abnormal circadian genes and thermal fingerprint
- Abnormality of circadian control genes present in peripheral tissue which can aid the development of breast cancer
- Differences in the comparison of various fingerprints
The Cyrcadia Health smart bra for the early detection of breast cancer has about 16 sensors that give this warning system the following benefits:
- The application is easy to use and no special training is required
- Non-invasive, non-toxic, and non-radiogenic
- Cost-effective and suitable for mass testing in low-income countries
- Breast tissue history of the individuals can be created using post-market feedback
- Shows minimum false-positive findings
- Does not cause hindrance to regular activities
- Suitable for screening in females as early as their 20s
- Avoids needless surgeries and biopsies
A non-invasive and safe way of analyzing breast tissue health is dynamic thermal analysis. In pre-menopausal women, this test could be the initial breast screening test. If this test gives a positive result, further invasive testing can be conducted using anatomical imaging with mammography, ultrasonography, and /or MRI.
The here-presented smart bra technology by the Cyrcadia Health Company is just the first of many other companies to address the need for better and more regular breast tissue screenings. A more recent prototype version of the smart bra has been developed by a Mexican company Higia Technologies. The so-called Eva bras were designed to be worn 60-90min per week but research and clinical trials are still being conducted and we are yet to hear more about this company.
Sources and Further Reading
This article was updated on 14th February, 2020.