Scientists are developing a device that could monitor whether a breast cancer tumour is growing.

The device could be able to fit inside a bra and it’s hoped that it would help save patients’ lives in the future by monitoring tumour growth in real time.

A team in Nottingham Trent University’s (NTU) Medical Technologies Innovation Facility is working to create the technology which will use a form of electrical current that can scan and detect tiny changes in fluids inside and outside of the cells.

Tumour tissue is more dense than healthy tissue and contains less water so the device will be able to measure tumour changes and growth, down to as little as 2mm.

It is hoped the non-invasive technology will be used alongside treatment and other regular checks and scans.

Researchers say the new technology could be used as an insert into a patient’s bra or potentially developed as a new bra incorporating the device.

A smartphone would record data and feed it back to the wearer and clinician so that assessments can be made about growth.

Researchers hope this could help reduce the need for so many other checks and save money for health services.

It’s important that ongoing monitoring is carried out as tumour growth can vary significantly between patients and it is very difficult to monitor precisely, particularly under 1cm.

MRI scans can be months apart, the researchers say, and there could be significant growth between hospital visits.

Dr Yang Wei, an expert in electronic textiles and electronic engineering in NTU, said: “The technology would measure changes in breast tissue and help improve a patient’s chance of survival.

“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.”

Every year, there are more than 55,000 new cases of breast cancer in the UK with more than 11,000 deaths.

What is next for the researchers?

The scientists have honed the electronics functionality and will now work towards optimising and validating the technology.

They are aiming to move the device to clinical trial within the next few years.

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Dr Simon Vincent, director of research, support and influencing at Breast Cancer Now, said: “With over 55,000 people being diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK, and 11,000 sadly dying from the disease, research looking at how we can better detect and treat breast cancer is 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.

“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.”