In 2017, approximately 252,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in American women; approximately 41,000 American women will die from breast cancer in the same period. Breast cancer is far and away the most significant cancer threat to women in the U.S., and affects women of all races at a rate two times higher even than lung cancer. Early detection of breast cancer is widely recognized as the best defense that we have against the disease, with mammograms and self-examination being the greatest weapons in our arsenal to combat the breast cancer mortality rates. However, the annual recommended mammogram can be a demanding thing, with the process costing between $100 to $200 out-of-pocket, not to mention the commitment of time. What women need is a regular, effective, cost-efficient process of early detection that does not make active demands of their time and Julian Rios Cantu, an eighteen-year-old from Mexico claims that he might just have the solution.
The Eva bra is designed with biosensors built into the cups to measure temperature changes and record them in an app, alerting its user of any disturbing changes that could indicate early breast cancer. To log accurate measurements, Cantu claims that the bra would only require 60-90 minutes of wear a week. The Eva bra has garnered an extraordinary amount of attention, with Cantu and three friends founding the company Higia Technologies to launch their prototype. The trio has received the top prize at this year’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, with the Eva bra facing off against entrepreneurial concepts from across the world to win $US 20,000 in development funding.
While the concept of the bra has been widely applauded, the science behind such technology is still very much in question and efficacy of such a design is yet to be seen. The reliance on temperature fluctuation to indicate early breast cancer is a process that is not yet verified for accuracy, as Anna Perman from Cancer Research Uk told the BBC, “We know that tumors often have an abnormal system of blood vessels, but we also know that increased blood flow isn’t necessarily a reliable marker of cancer. At present, there is no evidence to show whether this bra is a reliable way to detect tumors”.
The Eva bra still has a long way to go and before audiences become too excited by the concept, it is also worth mentioning that a bra heat-detection system for breast cancer is hardly a new development. In fact, in 1997, a preliminary clinical trial was proposed with a heat-sensing bra much like the one that Cantu has produced. The bra was invented by Hugh Simpson, M.D, a senior research fellow at Glasgow University and dubbed the Chronobra, it measured the deep temperature of a woman’s breasts with a series of built-in heat sensors. Simpson suggested that regular use of the bra would accommodate for the dynamic fluctuations of the breast that mammograms appear unable to capture and claimed, “Taking a mammogram at a random point in the menstrual cycle is rather like snapping a photo of a roller coaster at a point in time – you might well miss something – whereas the bra measures all that”. However, even in 2007 the thermographic approach to breast cancer detection appeared to be falling out of favour due to more sophisticated methods of measuring breast temperature. Simpson’s bra was never verified as a statistically effective method of breast cancer detection and the same evidence from rigorous clinical trials may well elude Cantu’s design, I fear.
Cantu’s story is also strongly reminiscent of American teen, Jake Andraka’s story who created a new type of biosensor, similar to diabetic test strips, as an early detection method for pancreatic cancer. Andraka’s design worked by measuring mesothelin serum levels (a suspected cancer biomarker) and he claims that the method is 168 times faster than any current methods of pancreatic cancer detection. However, Andraka’s claims have been repeatedly refuted by clinical trials and have become subject to criticism by researchers such as Dr Ira Pastan (a senior investigator in the laboratory of molecular biology at the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research) who states that Andraka’s method makes “no scientific sense. I don’t know anybody in the scientific community who believes his findings”.
It is yet to be seen whether clinical evidence will support Cantu’s claim but at the very least, Higia Tecnologies may well produce some promising minds for the next generation in the battle against breast cancer.