Could a bra be a lifesaver?

By Kimberly Clark, Science Tuesday Editor

Speaking on behalf of the female proportion of the population, I would like to say that bras are a necessary evil. They are not the most comfortable contraptions made for women, but they could be a lot worse. (How about those five inch heels, ladies?) And at the end of the day, you always realize that though you may have wished your bra weren’t around, you could not have made it through the day without it. Got to love that support.

But bras can do more than just lend support to the twins. They can push them up, push them down, push them together, give them some padding or even—for all you adventurous souls out there—a little freedom.

Bra e-card

And just when I thought bras could not get anymore complex, I get hit with the news that a company in Reno, Nev., called First Warning Systems, is developing a cancer-detecting bra. I’ll bet that Victoria’s Secret $2.5 million jeweled bra is looking a little cheap right now.

So, getting to the question of day: does this cancer bra really work?

The basis for the cancer bra is the technique of thermography. Thermography is the use of infrared cameras to develop images displaying the temperatures of body tissue. These images, called thermograms, could alert doctors to areas of developing cancer because malignant tissue has a higher temperature than normal tissue. The technique is already in use in an imaging device that measures the temperature of breast tissue to find malignant tissue.

The bra, which contains temperature-detecting sensors in the cups, is worn for twelve hours. It gives readings based on the temperature in a woman’s breasts of normal, benign, suspected for breast tissue abnormalities or probable for breast tissue abnormalities. More simply put, a hot reading signifies the presence of cancer and a cold reading signifies normal tissue.

Cancer-detecting bra

Photo via First Warning Systems

According to the First Warning Systems website, the bra has 90 percent specificity and sensitivity in detecting malignant tissues.

However, the problem is that the readings from the bra did not always match up with results of proven cancer-detecting methods: mammogram, MRI and ultrasound tests. The Food and Drug Administration warned against relying on the bra as a substitute for a mammogram.

Some women already diagnosed with breast cancer did not get a hot reading like they should have. Others, who did get a hot reading, underwent further tests, which found no malignant tissues. Those women went on to never develop breast cancer.

Furthermore, even if the bra did detect growing malignant tissue, there may not be much for doctors to do about it at such an early stage of development. Tumors must be a certain size before invasive surgery becomes a viable option and the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy are not warranted until the cancer reaches a certain stage.

So, the cancer bra cannot yet be dubbed the new Wonderbra. Until then, we’ll just have to be satisfied with the multitude of bras available at the local Victoria’s Secret.

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