Imagine a bra that could help detect breast cancer.
Eighteen-year-old Julian Rios Cantu did more than imagine it.
He assembled a team and came up with a prototype.
The Entrepreneurs’ Organization named him Global Student Entrepreneur of the Year 2017 for his invention.
Cantu’s research was inspired by his mother’s battle with the disease. Now he’s chief executive officer of Higia Technologies, a Mexican-based biosensors company devoted to early detection of breast cancer.
EVA, the breast cancer detection bra, looks much like any other bra.
But it’s equipped with 200 small tactile biosensors that map the surface of each breast. It monitors changes in texture, color, and temperature.
A woman would wear the bra for 60-90 minutes per week to compile the data. She would then receive the information on an app.
Development is still in the early stages.
Can the bra work?
Dr. Jay Harness is a breast cancer surgeon with the Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment at St. Joseph Hospital in California.
Harness told Healthline that the bra appears to work by trying to detect temperature differences in the skin, secondary to increased blood flow, which is theoretically tied to a presence of cancer in the breast.
“We know that growth of cancers leads to increased blood flow,” he said.
“However, to be detected at the skin, these are more often advanced cancers. Stage 2 or stage 3,” he explained. “That said, it could still get women to the doctor earlier. It's astounding to me that we still see in the United States, with all of our breast cancer detection efforts, women who arrive in physicians’ offices with large, palpable cancers in the breast that are stage 2 or stage 3.”
Dr. Richard Reitherman, medical director of breast imaging at MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Memorial in California, told Healthline that the device appears easy to use.
“But it still requires scientific validation studies essential to verify any technology that helps in our goal of early breast cancer detection,” said Reitherman.
“I applaud the extraordinary response of Julian Rios Cantu and his team,” he added. “Julian changed the trajectory of a personal tragedy into a possible solution for the detection of early breast cancer.”
Experts cite both false positives and overconfidence as potential problems.
“Infections and other issues in the breast could lead to a false positive,” cautioned Harness. “Conversely, it could absolutely give a false sense of security to a patient, which is my biggest concern. A patient at risk might start skipping mammograms, doctor visits, etc. False confidence is an immense concern.”
Although the bra is more likely to detect advanced, rather than early-stage cancer, Harness said in some areas of the world, that may still be an improvement.
“In countries where there are no organized early detection screening programs currently implemented, this may assist in getting women to physicians earlier,” he said.
Harness notes that more research is needed to confirm this. Also, strict scientific trials would be necessary before it could be introduced in the United States.
As an OB-GYN, and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, Dr. Sherry Ross is on the front lines of women’s healthcare.
She told Healthline that if the EVA bra works as described, it’s exciting news. But she wouldn’t want women to think a negative result means there’s no breast cancer.
“A negative result from the EVA bra does not mean a woman has nothing to worry about when it comes to breast cancer screening. It’s important for women to understand the recommended screening guidelines for breast cancer involves a mammogram. No other routine screening test can be used for detection of breast cancer,” explained Ross.
“Early detection of breast cancer saves lives,” she added. “With 1 in 8 women getting breast cancer, it’s imperative for women to start self-breast exams in their 20s and routine mammogram screening in their 40s.”
Prevention through diet has definitely been proven to be the best bet in the fight against breast cancer, Ross noted.
Other technologies in the works
“Currently, screening mammography is the most ubiquitous and scientifically validated screening test in general use. Other modalities that have been scientifically validated in trials include breast MRI and breast ultrasound,” said Reitherman.
Researchers around the world are working on other technologies for early detection.
Reitherman said this includes techniques based on sending a form of electromagnetic wave such as laser, X-ray, or thermal signals. The interaction with breast tissue can then be measured and seen on electromagnetic waves.
“The goal is to distinguish abnormal from normal tissue. All current techniques use some form of this model in creating images of the breast and its abnormalities. Newer technologies are utilizing the concept of functional imaging. This model extracts information such as blood flow and oxygenation levels,” he explained.
“Nevertheless, current technologies are still not adequate. The most rigorous interventions have decreased mortality due to breast cancer by less than 50 percent overall,” continued Reitherman.
“Early breast cancer detection is not always possible due to the aggressive biology of some tumors. However, we should always support the development and embrace new technologies that may work. Scientific validation must precede recommending any screening test to our patients,” he said.
Reitherman stressed the importance of talking to a doctor about personal screening choices.
“The future is really hopeful, and I’m optimistic about the development of other technologies that will detect breast cancer earlier and earlier, including liquid biopsies. So as they say in the radio business, ‘stay tuned,’” said Harness.