New bra works to detect breast cancer

By Brandon Smith

A new brassiere may help women detect breast cancer in earlier stages than existing methods.

The bra, which resembles a standard sports bra, uses a combination of 16 sensors to map breast tissue, using thermal imaging to detect pre-cancerous abnormalities. According to First Warning Systems Inc., the company that developed the bra-technology and conducted clinical trials, the mapping of blood vessel growth that precedes possible tumors might be more reliable and accurate than mammograms in detecting breast cancer .

According to Matt Benardis, chief of operations for FWS, the bra is initially worn for 24 hours, while data from the screening is sent to the wearer’s physician. Once a baseline set of data has been recorded, technology in the bra will “remember” the user.

The bra would only need to be worn for 12 hours during an annual scan.

“Not only does this bolster the ability to identify abnormalities early, but it offers the ability to compile a research database that could assist in understanding the causes of cancer and potentially lead to finding a cure,” Benardis said.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that nearly 227,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, and nearly 40,000 will die from it. NCI data from 2009 shows that approximately 2.7 million women had a history of breast cancer.

Benardis said there are some issues with mammograms, currently the preferred method for breast cancer screening. Benardis said he believes the procedure is invasive, costly and sometimes inaccessible and inaccurate.

Dr. William Gradishar, an oncologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, disagrees and said the bra is not a substitute for regular mammograms because it has not finished its clinical trials.

“Mammograms are the best mode of detecting breast cancer,

period,” he said. “For standard use, there is no other test. Everything else is purely investigational. Other tools must be validated as superior to a mammogram, and that has not been done yet.”

Benardis said the new bra does not aim to replace mammograms, but instead provides an early response for objective and accurate screening to women of all ages. He said it particularly targets women with dense breast tissue and women under 40, the age NCI recommends women start getting

annual mammograms.

“Women are not currently screened under the age of 40 because of the relative ineffectiveness of the mammogram’s imaging capabilities in dense breast tissue,” Benardis said. “Our clinical trials have competed against the screening mammogram in areas that it is ineffective or invaluable.”

Though Gradishar asserts that technology like the FWS bra will never replace mammogram screenings, he said women have been seeking a more effective and less invasive means for early breast

cancer detection.

“Finding better tools for screening is certainly a valid objective,” he said. “It’s a worthwhile thing to look for something better, but until that happens, the mammogram is still a sure tool that saves lives.”

Regardless of its validity as a primary source of cancer detection, technology like the bra is a testament to personalized care,

Benardis said.

“We do believe that individualized medicine is very much an issue that will become a mainstream topic in our approach to health care in general,” he said. “We want to offer individuals the opportunity to acquire quantified data about themselves to enable a more robust discussion and diagnosis with

her physician.”

The bra is currently in its fourth of five clinical trials and is set to hit the European market in early 2013. U.S. women should not expect to see the product until 2014, when it will be available by prescription at a cost of approximately $200.

Though the bra is only a prospective measure for early cancer detection, it should not be relied on as a primary tool for care,

Gradishar said.

“As a physician, I am not recommending that a woman goes to Europe next year to a buy a bra and feel comfortable,” he said. “Until this technology is validated and reviewed, there is no substitute to the standard mode of screening.”