Revolutionizing The Mammogram: The Celbrea Disruption To Breast Cancer Detection

Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer among women worldwide, accounting for 1 in 4 cancer cases. It is the most frequent cancer amongst both sexes and is the leading cause of death of cancer in women.

Lisa Pereira
Lisa Pereira

“Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer among women worldwide, accounting for 1 in 4 cancer cases. It is the most frequent cancer amongst both sexes and is the leading cause of death of cancer in women. The estimated 2.3 million new cases indicate that one in every eight cancers diagnosed in 2020 was breast cancer.” (1) This led to 685,000 deaths globally. (2)

New technology like, Celbrea® can revolutionize detection that can change women and men with breast cancer.

Like many women, breast cancer has been in my vocabulary since I was a young girl, with people I knew and related to being diagnosed with it. So let’s explore how it’s diagnosed and an innovative approach to detection.

Blausen.com staff (2014). "Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436‌‌

The mammogram

It all began with the invention of x-rays by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895. Then in 1913, German surgeon Albert Salomon looked at over 3,000 mastectomies comparing X-rays of the breasts and the removed tissue. This led him to see the difference between what was cancerous and non-cancerous. After that, there were a few more studies and discoveries by other physicians and radiologists.

In the mid-1950s, Robert Egan came up with a method of screening mammography that led to a book in 1964 called Mammography. Egan’s technique enabled the detection of calcification in the breast. (3) Today, the mammogram is still widely used for testing.

If you are interested more in the history of mammography, check out Highlights from the History of Mammography. This article in Radio Graphics includes dozens of historical photos worth taking a look.

Ten percent false positives

Screening for breast cancer through mammography became popular as mortality declined and treatment increased. But, like all types of screening, nothing is 100%. False positives occur at about ten percent. This can lead to surgery and the removal of unnecessary tissue in one in ten cases.

There’s also overdiagnosis and overtreatment. “Doctors can’t always tell which cancers will be life-threatening and which won’t ever cause problems. Because of this, all cases are treated.” (4)

Not to mention the anxiety a woman has when going back to get more tests done. “Patients who receive a false-positive mammogram result are also prescribed anxiety or depression medication at a rate 10 to 20 percent higher than patients who receive an immediate negative result.” (5)

Mammography is also controversial, swapping the reduction of breast cancer mortality for a small percent of radiation-induced cancers.

There isn’t anything that 100% yet.

There has to be a better way

Like many women with a family history of breast cancer, I had my first mammogram at 35. There are not enough adjectives like pain, torture, ache, pinch, discomfort to explain the experience. Since that first experience, my brain has raced with invention ideas. As I learned more about sensors, I dreamt of a bra lined with sensors that a woman could wear for a few minutes, and it would then deliver the results to a smartphone. There are efforts towards innovative new ways for early detection.

The University of Chicago Medicine lists some of the latest breast screening tools. In addition, there is hope for better detection from the assistance of AI, MRI machines, and genetic testing (nine genes associated with increased breast cancer risk), along with countless other inventions that may still be waiting to complete trials and get FDA approval.

Are we there yet? We are getting close.

Celbrea: Detecting Breast Cancer One Pair At A Time

This unique and revolutionary way to examine breasts is done thru a thin device with over 1188 nano-sensors that become activated by body temperature.

“In the early stage of cancer’s growth, tumors are dependent upon the surrounding vascularity. As cancer cells begin to divide more quickly, new blood vessel formation is required (angiogenesis). Increase in temperature at the site of the lesion is transmitted to the surrounding tissue.” (6)

Testing is done at home, and the results are instant. However, you’ll need to send the images of your results to a doctor or medical practitioner who can better translate the results for you. The other plus to this single-use device is that it’s fully recyclable and contains no chemicals and radiation. It also does not require any computers or fancy tech equipment. You’ll need a camera to take pictures of the results.

There is an app, but the testing is not dependant on the use, making Celbrea more accessible to women around the world who may not have internet or a smartphone for the app. The app itself is worth checking out. This is a case study by decemberlabs that goes into the details behind the development of the app.

The device placed on the breasts is broken into three areas, two on top and one on the bottom. Alex J Ness, CEO of Welwaze, commented that “the reason why we put two areas on the top is that most breast diseases, including breast cancer happens on the top part above the mammary glands.”

Each lettered area is compared to the same letter on the opposite breast. One is then looking for a difference of 2 degrees or more. The difference in temperature between the breasts may indicate undesirable metabolic activity that might include breast cancer.

For denser breasts that could be smaller or large, Celbrea has a better chance of detecting growth because of temperature differences that a mammogram sometimes can’t pick up. Celbrea is not against mammography but sees itself as a tool that can empower people with their health.

My Experience with Celbrea

The device arrived in a box with an ice pack. In my email from Welwaze, they advised it to remain refrigerated until I was ready to use it. Then, an Education Specialist used a mannequin to show me how to use the device.

I wore the device for 15 minutes with minimal movement while my body temperature activated the sensors. The sensors change from blue to red according to the thermal activity in the breasts. When one compares the two pads when removed, a difference of 2 °F can indicate something to look into. I took pictures of my results and sent them over to my Education Specialist over at Welwaze. She reminded me that it’s normal for all the dimples to activate (turn red), and thankfully since the difference in all the sections between the right and left breast was just one, my results were nonsignificant.

She reminded me again that this is not a replacement for the mammogram.

OpenExO Partnership with Welwaze

OpenExO has partnered with Welwaze to drive the distribution of the Celbrea Breast Disease Detection Device. Welwaze has developed Celbrea (PDF) to support the early detection of breast disease, including breast cancer. Their mission is to help every woman around the world to monitor the health of their breasts. Celbrea (quick facts) is an FDA-cleared Class I medical device that is painless, easy-to-use, and in just 15 minutes, may alert physicians and patients of potential underlying breast pathology.

In July 2021, OpenExO offered the community an opportunity to try Celbrea for 200 individuals for 50EXOS. I am super excited to get this device and test it out.

I’m a huge fan of the possibilities that sensors can provide in various aspects of our lives.

Innovating for Impact

Going back to the startling worldwide statistic that I started this article with, breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer among women worldwide, accounting for 1 in 4 cancer cases.

A device like Celbrea can be a game-changer in lowering that number for women and men worldwide.

During the pandemic, we saw and continue to see a reduction in hospital examinations that are not covid related. When I spoke to my doctor about my overdue mammogram in August, she said the next available appointment isn’t until mid-December. They are still catching up from when they had limited services and the number of people they could see. I’m an optimist and a realist and not sure when we will return to some new normal. But, for now, advancements in telemedicine, wearables with sensors that can track everything from our heart rate, exercise, sleep, etc., and exams that we can take at home put us one step closer to taking control and making better decisions about our health.

Again this device is not to replace the mammogram and self-examinations. But maybe one day, as technology improves, I hope that mammograms become obsolete and a less invasive, nonpainful, non-radiation-causing device delivers results that are 99% accurate. Then, with a device like Celbrea, we can get it into the hands of more women and men worldwide, especially in areas where detection devices are harder to come by.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation and Breast Cancer.Org have self-examination guides that I highly encourage everyone to look at.

  1. Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). 2021. “Breast Cancer.” https://bit.ly/3l68s0q
  2. World Health Organization. 2021. “Breast cancer.” https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/breast-cancer
  3. Skloot, Rebecca. 2001. “Taboo Organ: How a Pitt Alum Refused to Let Mammography Be Ignored.” Pitt Med Health, (April), 4. https://www.pittmed.health.pitt.edu/apr_2001/taboo_organ.pdf
  4. American Cancer Society. 2019. “Limitations of Mammograms.” Cancer.org. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection/mammograms/limitations-of-mammograms.html.
  5. Penn State. "False-positive mammogram results linked to a spike in anxiety prescriptions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 July 2017. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/07/170706113201.htm
  6. Celbrea. n.d. “Elevated temperature as a thermal biomarker.” A breakthrough in breast healthcare for the detection of early signs of breast disease. https://celbrea.com/.

More Resources: American Breast Cancer Society


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Lisa Pereira

Lisa’s MTP is leveraging innovation for equity so all voices are heard. At OpenExO, she's working on Exponential Organizations 2.0. Worked at SU & Stanford. ASNE Reynolds Fellow.