Hands holding pink breast cancer awareness ribbon

Smart bra could aid in early detection of breast cancer

Image credit: Dreamstime

A robotics engineer in Nigeria has developed a smart bra that can detect breast cancer early. Its inventor says it may save African women long journeys to access screening services.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in Sub-Saharan Africa, with 129,000 new cases diagnosed in 2020.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only around half of women in these regions live for more than five years after being diagnosed, with late diagnosis being a major factor.

To tackle this, inventor Kemisola Bolarinwa hopes her smart bra innovation will be “instrumental” in addressing the barriers to early detection of the disease.

“My beloved aunt died of breast cancer in 2017 at the University College Hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria, because it was diagnosed late,” said Bolarinwa, founder of Nextwear Technology, a wearable technology company based in Abuja, Nigeria.

She added: “In her ward at the hospital, I saw women of different age groups, even teenagers, groaning in the pain of breast cancer. That was when I felt I needed to contribute my part to fight the disease.”

Bolarinwa said that women could use the device safely from the comfort of their own home to check their breasts for lumps or other abnormalities regularly. “If they could detect early that they have cancer, then they will be safe, and many don’t have to die,” she explained.

The engineer hopes the device will be ready to market from this July, following four years of development. She and her team started work on the design in 2018 and by February 2020 had come up with their first prototype. Since then, the company has developed ten more.

“We have conducted a local trial and got about 70 per cent accuracy. We are working towards 95-97 per cent accuracy,” Bolarinwa said.

Smart bra developed by Kemisola Bolarinwa

Image credit: Kemisola Bolarinwa

Bolarinwa developed the smart bra using ultrasound technology, and the chargeable, battery-operated device comes with mobile and web apps that can display where a tumour is on the breasts, she explained.

“Results will show if the tumour is benign or malignant,” Bolarinwa explained. “They must wear the smart bra on the breasts for a maximum of 30 minutes for the result to show. The app also has an interface for the result to be transmitted to a doctor.”

Bolarinwa said it is her dream to see many African women saved from breast cancer, adding that her invention could save the stress of women travelling long distances to cities for cancer screening.

According to a WHO report on breast cancer outcomes in the region, diagnoses of the disease at an advanced stage reduces the possibilities of curative treatment, but many African women experience delays in being diagnosed.

Francis Durosinmi-Etti, a professor of radiation therapy and oncology at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital in Nigeria, said that technology such as the smart bra could help change this.

“I probably heard of a smart bra in 2015, but it wasn’t for cancer detection,” he said. “The ultrasound technology behind the smart bra sounds OK because it does not produce any radiation.”

The invention has already received approval from Nigeria’s Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, and the Communications Commission.


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