The impact of IoT devices continues to grow, as evidenced by a new device, the iTBra. This connected bra, which could go to market globally in the first half of 2018, is intended for the early detection of breast cancer.

The product is so groundbreaking that tech giant Cisco is a sponsor of Detected, a 16-minute documentary about the struggles of the developer of the bra, Rob Royea, and how his wife’s family breast cancer history spurred him to push for the product’s creation. The movie will debut in Beverly HIlls on June 5.

This year alone, 40,610 women will die from breast cancer in the US. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, and the chance that a woman will die from breast cancer is about 1 in 37, according to the American Cancer Society.

While mammograms are the main way that breast cancer is detected, it is more difficult to identify cancer cells in dense breast tissue because it has more tissue and less fat. And 40-50% of women in the US ages 40-74 have dense breasts, according to the Susan G. Komen organization.

SEE: Are some breast cancer patients getting too much radiation? (CBS News)

The iTBra, made by Cyrcadia Health, contains 16 sensors that detect changes in breast tissue. The sensors are contained in a patch that attaches with an adhesive to the patient’s skin. The patient wears the iTBra for 2 hours, and the data collected is sent directly to her physician for analysis. It’s an alternative to the discomfort of a mammogram, and it’s especially helpful for women with dense breast tissue, such as Royea’s own wife, Kelli Royea, who is featured in the documentary.

Royea explained that the bra works “through predictive algorithm approach (artificial intelligence), all processing is accomplished in a cloud based analytic location. The results of the screening are automatically sent to the user, stating simply good to go, or you may want to see your physician. If the user selects to include the physician data in their application, that physician can get an immediate email to the need for a physician follow up requested. If the insurance company has financed the garment, they too could be notified with an automated alert of the need for follow up exam.”

To develop the bra, Royea used sensors that received FDA clearance in the late 1980s but weren’t feasible for this mainstream use because back then, the lack of IoT connectivity required a woman to be physically connected to a machine via cables for two days, and they had to be attached by a physician. Royea’s goal was to put this proven technology into a scalable product with marketability as a wearable device, so that it could be easily worn by millions of women and thereby create a massive database for analytics to help with early detection.

“My inspiration for joining the company, and finding a way to scale this technology, is that I saw for the first time a wearable technology that could shift the diagnostic time period [for breast cancer] from late stage to early stage, from the hospital to the home. If we could create a scalable technology that would touch the everyday life of women, who would have a solution that could screen and find cancer at a much earlier time, potentially saving millions of lives in the process,” Royea said.

The iTBra has already been used in clinical trials in Ohio and California on women with abnormalities in their mammograms, as seen in the documentary. Royea said he anticipates marketing it globally as early as the first half of 2018.

Seth Kramer, producer of Detected and owner of Ironbound Films, said, “An internet-connected bra. My first reaction when I heard about it was, ‘that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.’ Then I learned the intent of the bra was to find a better way to detect breast cancer. It was like being struck by lightning. Documentary filmmakers try to find stories that change how people view the world. This was that story.”

Kramer said, “It’s useful to think of the iTBra in relation to the current cutting-edge technology that exists to find breast cancer, which is mammography, and which uses x-ray technology to find a tumor and requires the doctor or the technician to physically observe it with their eye. This technology can be a little limiting because the tumor appears in the image as sort of like a white mass. The breast tissue that surrounds it is also white. The analogy that people give is it’s like finding a snowflake in a snow storm.”

The iTBra changes that. “Rob and his company found a way to attach sensors to the breast that look for changes that occur on a cellular level when cancer is present and does not require a physician to see the cancer with their eye,” Kramer explained.

Cisco funded the documentary because, “when we see technologies like these arise, we know that if they’re very successful at detection, the adoption will be massive. We look across this impact of the IoT trend not just in healthcare but all industries,” said Raakhee Mistry, Cisco director of marketing for enterprise networks.

Kramer said the device would be impossible without modern-day technology. The documentary, he added, “sings the song of the internet and shows where we are headed and how internet technology will change our lives in the years ahead.”

See the preview trailer of Detected here. Anyone interested in attending the premiere of Detected in Beverly Hills can register here for tickets. It will be at the Ahrya Fine Arts Theater on June 5, at 7:30 pm PT.

The top 3 takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Cisco is funding a documentary on the iTBra, which is intended for the early detection of breast cancer.
  2. The iTBra is an IoT-connected device that contains 16 sensors that women wear for 2 hours with the resulting data sent automatically to their physicians.
  3. The iTBra is based on technology approved in the late 1980s that wasn’t feasible until now, with the advent of wearable devices.

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