By Lisa Suennen

First Posted at Venture Valkyrie on 10/22/2012

Lisa Suennen, The Venture Valkyrie

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the U.S. and if you are a human being with breasts or a fan of same, be aware.  About 226,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and nearly 40,000 women die of breast cancer annually. Just as a point of reference, about 32,000 Americans die in car accidents every year.

And by the way, while men generally think of breast cancer as something their wives and mothers get, that is not always the case—men can get breast cancer too.  The number of new cases is small (1% of breast cancers occur in men), but male breast cancer gets diagnosed about 2000 times per year and 400 men die each year from breast cancer.  A close friend of my family, young and healthy (albeit with an unhealthy fascination with Bucky Badger), found out he had breast cancer earlier this year and had to go through the same miserable experience that so many women endure—surgery, chemo, the whole nine yards.  Since he was one of the few men over 50 who hadn’t already lost his hair, he got stuck with that too.   Fortunately he is doing great now and has even recovered his hair, much to the annoyance of all of his balding but cancer-free male friends.   He didn’t look great in a bikini before so no real change there.

Not immune from breast cancer

In fact, for all of you breast owners, the third Friday in October each year is National Mammography Day, first proclaimed by President Clinton in 1993 (perfect: the President we most closely associate with breasts). On National Mammography Day, which actually occurred last Friday, October 19th, women are encouraged to make a mammography appointment.   If you are over 40 and haven’t gone to have your breasts flattened by a hard cold piece of plastic recently, it is time to go.  Yeah, it’s miserably unpleasant, but it’s brief and I am pretty darn sure it is more enjoyable to have a mammogram than to have chemotherapy. Thus, you have little to lose by submitting to the feeling of having your boobs backed over by a Volkswagen in order to give yourself the best chance to avoid the worst.  I have long wondered why they don’t use hot, young male radiology techs to perform these tests to balance out the downsides.  I think this would go a long way towards improving mammogram compliance.

And to make it all the more complicated, it turns out that about 30% of women are born with dense breast tissue that is not conducive to being read by a mammogram.  I was told by a radiology tech recently, as she backed her Volkswagen over my boobs, that dense breast tissue is “the good stuff that make your breasts look perky.”  Be that as it may, dense breast tissue also raises your risk for breast cancer. Thus, if you happen to be one of these lucky people with perky high risk breasts, it is very important for you to seek out an alternative screening methodology, such as MRI or better and less expensive, Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI) offered by a company called Gamma Medica (self-interest alert, this is a Psilos investment).  Some states, such as California (finally), Texas and New York have passed laws that require your doctor or radiologist to inform you if you have dense breast tissue and to suggest you get another form of screening.  If they forget to tell you, don’t forget to ask.  It matters.

First Warning Systems Bra

Breast cancer screening has had its share of controversy, both around the dense breast information issue and around the frequency at which mammograms are recommended.  However, one enterprising young company has come up with an ingenious new way to address the challenge:  the First Warning Systems bra.  If this does not sound like a Saturday Night Live spoof, I don’t know what does, but it’s real (and, for you Seinfeld fans, potentially spectacular).

You gotta love a company that combines medical devices and information technology in a whole new way, or should I say two whole new ways.  According to the company, their technology is:

“… defined as a non-invasive dynamic temperature analysis of the breast, enhanced with the bioinformatics software that integrates a number of over-laying mathematical and medical disciplines and computer-aided functions including the use of temperature analysis, chronology, and algorithmic and statistical analysis. Never before has a system of such accuracy been developed or implemented.”

Just add analytics!

For those of you who prefer English, what they mean is this: the $200 bra has embedded sensors that lay up against your skin to read temperature changes in your breasts.  These changes are then tracked over time using an analytics baseline to determine if there are hot spots warranting attention.  I am sure there are men out there that would offer to perform this service in a low tech way for free, but that does not make for a readily scalable business.  Perhaps this is the finest paradigm yet for the concept of “big data.”  I know, juvenile, but just can’t help myself.  There is a good article about the product that you can read by clicking here. My daughter suggests that this company could diversify by offering up Halloween-themed pasties in honor of October’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.   A marketing genius in the making.

So if you are “of age” and it’s been more than a year or two, call now to schedule your mammogram.  They’re real, so do all you can to keep them spectacular.

Patricia Salber MD, MBA (@docweighsin)
Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In. She is also the CEO of Health Tech Hatch, the sister site of TDWI that helps innovators tell their stories to the world. She is also a physician executive who has worked in all aspects of healthcare including practicing emergency physician, health plan executive, consultant to employers, CMS, and other organizations. She is a Board Certified Internist and Emergency Physician who loves to write about just about anything that has to do with healthcare.


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