Those breast exams 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, Nev., 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 tumors, which the company says 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 tumors long before a hand or mammogram likely would.
Over three clinical trials with 650 participants, the bra has been found to detect the beginnings of tumors as many as six years before imaging can, and boasts a 92.1 percent level of accuracy at correctly classifying them -- far greater than the 70 percent accuracy seen in routine mammograms.
The company's Web site says it plans to commercialize the system in Europe in 2013 and, with FDA approval, in the U.S. 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.