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Scientists are developing a device that fits inside a bra and could monitor whether a breast cancer tumour is growing.

Researchers hope the device will provide a new non-invasive method of detecting tumour growth that patients can use “in the comfort of their own homes”.

The device, under development by Nottingham Trent University’s (NTU) medical technologies innovation facility, will use an electrical current to scan and detect tiny changes in fluids inside and outside cells in the breast.

Because tumour tissue is more dense than healthy tissue and contains less water, the device will be able to measure tumour changes and growth in real time to as little as 2mm.

Researchers say the device could be used as an insert in a patient’s bra or developed as a new bra incorporating the device, which would record data and send it to the wearer and their medical team via smartphone. The team behind it are aiming to move the device to clinical trial within the next few years.

“The technology would measure changes in breast tissue and help improve a patient’s chance of survival,” said Dr Yang Wei, an expert in electronic textiles and electronic engineering at NTU. “Breast cancer can grow so quickly; it could be 1mm in six months or 2mm in six weeks. This would be an additional measure to see how fast the tumour grows.

“We are opening the door to the investigation of an alternative breast cancer detection that could be done in the comfort of a patient’s home, conserving essential hospital resources whilst still providing a viable solution to detect early signs of cancer.”

According to Cancer Research, there are more than 55,000 new cases of breast cancer in the UK every year, and more than 11,000 deaths. Of the new cases, about 23% are preventable.

Researchers hope the device will improve the vital work of monitoring tumours, which can be difficult to do precisely, particularly in the case of those measuring less than 1cm. MRI scans can be months apart, with the possibility of significant growth between hospital visits.

Dr Simon Vincent, the director of research, support and influencing at Breast Cancer Now, said research on better detection and treatment of breast cancer was urgently needed.

“While this new technology could offer a new way to monitor the growth of breast cancer tumours and we look forward to seeing the final results, the device has not yet been tested on people and there’s a lot more we need to understand before we can consider whether or not it could be used in medical settings,” he said.

“Anyone affected by breast cancer can speak to Breast Cancer Now’s expert nurses by calling our free helpline on 0808 800 6000 for information and support.”

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