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MIT Researchers Develop a Wearable Breast Cancer Detection Device

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated October 19, 2023
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    Early breast cancer detection and treatment is crucial to survival. This new MIT device may improve detection and help women without easy access to medical care.
    Woman administering a self breast exam at homeCredit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
    • MIT researchers used ultrasound technology to develop a wearable device for early breast cancer detection.
    • Early testing reveals the device produces high contrast and effective imaging with little operator training.
    • The developer is seeking investors to begin the process for FDA approval and anticipates commercial release in roughly five years.

    According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will receive a breast cancer diagnosis during their lifetime. However, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99% when caught in the early stages.

    A new breast cancer detection device developed by MIT researchers may become one of the advances in early detection methods that have significantly increased survival rates in recent years. Explore how this device might be used and how it may impact early detection.

    The Wearable Breast Cancer Detection Device From MIT Researchers

    According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), once breast cancer tumors have reached later stages of development, the survival rate drops to roughly 25%. Hoping to improve survival rate by enhancing early detection, MIT researcher Canon Dagdeviren, Ph.D., associate professor of media arts and sciences at MIT, is the senior author of the study to create a device that could easily capture images at the same position multiple times, making it ideal for long-term monitoring.

    Dagdeviren was inspired by her late aunt, who was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer at age 49 despite receiving regular screenings. While sitting with her, Dagdeviren drew a rough schematic of a device that could be incorporated into a bra and increase the number of screenings for those at higher risk for developing breast cancer. The ultimate goal was to make screening more affordable and help reach people in less economically developed countries.

    The new device is a flexible patch that attaches to a bra and allows imaging of breast tissue from different angles. The researchers analyzed data from participants and found that the resolution was comparable to ultrasound imaging used at imaging centers.

    “We changed the form factor of the ultrasound technology so that it can be used in your home. It’s portable, easy to use, and provides real-time, user-friendly monitoring of breast tissue,” says Dagdeviren.

    The device can also detect interval cancers — breast tumors that develop between regularly scheduled mammograms. These can account for up to 30% of all breast cancers. Dagdeviren notes that with more frequent screening, they may achieve a goal of increasing the survival rate for all women up to 98%.

    “This technology provides a fundamental capability in the detection and early diagnosis of breast cancer, which is key to a positive outcome,” said Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering, the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and one of the authors of the study. “This work will significantly advance ultrasound research and medical device designs, leveraging advances in materials, low-power circuits, AI algorithms, and biomedical systems.”

    When Will This Device Be Available for Use?

    Dagdeviren believes it may take five years before the device is available for commercial use. She is launching a company and looking for investors to start the process of getting FDA approval and doing mass production. Currently, the team is working to create a more compact computer interface that can publish the images in an iPhone-sized processor.

    “If this kind of product can be demonstrated to be on par with mammography and dedicated breast ultrasound for breast cancer screening, it will be a welcomed supplemental addition to women’s health care,” said Dr. Richard Reitherman, Ph.D., board-certified radiologist and medical director of breast imaging at MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, who was not involved in the study.

    However, as Reitherman notes, successful clinical trials are one of the biggest challenges for new medical devices to get FDA approval. Because the medical device will be used alongside radiologists who must read the ultrasound results, he anticipates that these clinical trials must be undertaken with the American College of Radiology.

    “This is a complex and difficult proposition,” he noted, “The jump from translational science to clinical efficacy remains to be seen.”

    Tips for Early Breast Cancer Screening and Detection

    Early breast cancer detection and treatment improve patient care and survival rates. Therefore, knowing how to incorporate screenings and early detection into your healthcare plan is important.

    It begins by understanding your personal risks and family history. Those with a history of breast cancer in first-degree relatives — parents and siblings — have a higher risk of developing the disease than those with breast cancer in second-degree relatives — aunts and cousins.

    Schedule an annual exam with your healthcare provider. Note any changes you find in your breast tissue, such as lumps, changes in the skin, dimples, or nipple discharge. Don’t wait for your annual exam to discuss findings with your physician. Instead, make an appointment as soon as possible.

    Low-level x-ray mammograms are a non-invasive test that helps detect breast cancer. Talk with your physician about when you should receive a mammogram, depending on your medical history, family history, and age. Those with dense breast tissue may find a digital mammography offers better information than traditional film mammography.

    Page last reviewed October 11, 2023