When Julián Ríos Cantú nearly lost his mother to breast cancer, he was inspired to develop a device that would help others detect the disease earlier on. Now, five years later, at 18, the Mexican teen has invented an auto-exploration bra that can help detect breast cancer in its early stages.
Ríos Cantú developed the bra with the team at Higia Technologies, the company he established with three close friends when he was 17. The bra, called EVA, uses tactile sensors in the bra’s lining to monitor breasts’ texture, color, and temperature. The data is then stored, and can be reviewed in a mobile or desktop app. By putting the sensors in a bra, the technology ensures that breasts remain in the same position, which allows for more accurate, reliable readings.
“What happens is we take all of the data and store it,” Ríos Cantú told the Mexican newspaper El Universal. “When there is a tumor in the breast there is more blood, more heat, so there are changes in temperature and texture. We will tell you ‘in this quadrant there are drastic changes in temperature’ and our software specializes in caring for that area. If we see a persistent change, we will recommend that you go to the doctor.”
On Saturday, the EVA bra won the top prize at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in Frankfurt, Germany, beating out 55 other young entrepreneurs from 55 other countries.
Although Ríos Cantú estimates it will be two years before the bra is certified for use, his invention is an important step forward in early breast cancer detection. While many women are encouraged to perform breast self-exams in the hope of detecting potential lumps or abnormalities, there is some debate over how useful these self-exams really are. One 2008 study found that there’s no evidence breast self-exams reduce breast cancer deaths, and can in fact lead to unnecessary biopsies.
According to Dr. David B. Thomas, breast cancer epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, how beneficial breast self-exams can be depends on the individual.
“If a woman is highly motivated — let’s say her mother or sister has been diagnosed with breast cancer — then of course she should practice breast self-exam. But that’s a different situation than trying to reach women on a mass scale. Our study shows that’s probably a waste of time. You’re not going to get women sufficiently motivated to practice it enough and frequently enough to make that big of a difference.”
When worn for an hour once a week, the EVA bra could be a far more efficient way of detecting early signs of breast cancer. And as with any illness, early detection is key. According to data from the U.K., more than 90 percent of women diagnosed with earliest stage breast cancer survive, compared to 15 percent at the most advanced stages of the disease.
Although great strides have been made in the detection and treatment of breast cancer, there is still so much work to be done, and the EVA bra has the potential to make a huge difference. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 255,180 new cases of breast cancer in the U.S. this year, and 41,070 deaths.