By Jinesh Shah, MD & Samuel Lin, MD
Every year, breast cancer kills half a million women worldwide. In the absence of a known way to prevent breast cancer, an effective method of reducing mortality is through early detection or genetic testing, and consequently, early intervention. Efforts on this front have helped advocate for groundbreaking policies relating to mammography screening and genetic testing. However, these tests are expensive and available mostly in high-income countries. Mammography, the gold standard for screening, has known limitations. One such limitation is associated with breast density – while denser breasts have an increased risk for breast cancer, they are also harder to image using mammograms. There is a need for other screening tools.
For over two decades, researchers around the world have been trying to tackle this problem. In the early 90s, Scottish scientists devised the Chronobra, a bra with inbuilt thermal sensors to track changes in breast temperature over time. They hypothesized that while mammography captures an instantaneous snapshot, there are natural variations in breast temperature over time and these are fundamentally different between healthy and cancerous breasts. While the inventors of Chronobra focused on using the technology to determine breast cancer outcomes, an American company, CyrcadiaHealth is developing its own intelligent thermal bra – the iTBra. iTBra hopes to transform everyday objects like bras and cell phones in combination with advanced analytics and sensors to allow patients to independently and conveniently monitor their own breast health. The goal is to develop a cheap screening tool that can be easily utilized by women and clinicians around the world. In a limited clinical trial, iTBra had greater sensitivity than mammography in correlating tumors with cancer, especially in patients with dense breast tissue. While data is currently limited, the iTBra will be utilized in extensive clinical trials upcoming in India and Singapore, involving 10,000 women and there are plans to launch the product in selective markets in 2016.
While many of these technologies are in early phases of development and will need substantial data before they can be validated, the goals are admirable. Healthcare technology is becoming more portable, accessible, and prevalent around the world, and the environment is ripe for researchers and companies to develop innovative and patient friendly solutions that not only improve outcomes, but also save on healthcare costs.