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Thanks for the memories  July 26, 2012

How a smart bra could one day outdo the mammogram

The Breast Tissue Screening Bra in the works is non-invasive, painless and may even be more accurate than 3D mammography.

The bra's sensor monitors minute temperature changes to look for areas where blood vessels are growing and feeding tumours.
(Credit: First Warning Systems)

Those breast exams that women are supposed to regularly give themselves in the shower are no joke. With one in eight women facing breast cancer diagnosis at some point, early detection — most often in the form of simple self-exams — can be a literal lifesaver.

So First Warning Systems, a company founded in Reno, Nevada, in 2008, is designing and testing a smart bra that is essentially a continuous exam, and that thus far appears to be more accurate that the somewhat controversial mammography.

The Breast Tissue Screening Bra incorporates a sensor that measures tiny temperature changes that occur as blood vessels grow and feed tumours, which, according to the company, grow for an average of 12 years (to 4 centimeters in diameter) before being surgically removed.

That sensor, meanwhile, communicates with pattern-recognition software to help spot possible tumours long before a hand or mammogram likely would.

Over three clinical trials with 650 participants (PDF), the bra has been found to detect the beginnings of tumours as many as six years before imaging can, and boasts a 92.1 per cent level of accuracy at correctly classifying them — far greater than the 70 per cent accuracy seen in routine mammograms.

The company's website claims that it plans to commercialise the system in Europe in 2013, and, with FDA approval, in the US in 2014. It's not yet clear how much the smart bra would cost, but with mammograms running a few hundred dollars a pop, the bra's continuous monitoring will likely be an attractive alternative.



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