According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, affecting 2.1 million of them every year.

In order to improve breast cancer outcomes and survival, early detection is critical. So, a handful of students came up with the idea to design a smart bra that can detect the life-threatening disease early.

SmartBra is an early breast cancer detection device

SmartBra
EPFL

Students from the Swiss university EPFL have invented a smart bra that is capable of detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages, making it the first piece of smart clothing that can be used to diagnose and prevent cancer.

"Our smart-clothing technology is designed to detect cancer at the earliest stages. It uses a non-invasive, painless method based on frequent ultrasound monitoring," says Hugo Vuillet, one of the students on the team.

How does it work?

The technology uses a different approach that traditional cancer-detection technology, like the mammogram, which uses radiation to examine breasts. The SmartBra is equipped with piezoelectric sensors that use ultrasound waves to perform scans and look for potentially dangerous cancer cells.

These piezoelectric sensors are devices powered by energy that is generated when pressure is applied to a piezoelectric material. This technology not only allowed the students to shrink the device's detection system but also ensured that the undergarment is "comfortable to wear and nearly imperceptible." If the SmartBra detects a suspicious lump or mass, it will notify the person who is wearing it so they can get it checked and if required, start treatment immediately to improve their chances of survival.

Launch planned for 2021

The students, who worked in tandem with the healthcare startup IcosaMed, hope to sell the SmartBra commercially in 2021. First, they plan to sell it to patients who have already been diagnosed but might benefit from daily monitoring. Then, they will market the device to those who are genetically inclined to develop cancer, before selling it to anyone else who might be interested.

Early detection of breast cancer using technology

We've seen a lot of big tech companies use artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose early-stage breast cancer. While Google claims its AI can detect breast cancer more accurately than expert radiologists, IBM's says its AI tech can predict breast cancer years before it even manifests itself. All of these methods, though, use mammograms, which makes the SmartBra that much more novel.