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How could a specially designed bra help women with breast cancer?

By Professor Heidi Probst | Twitter | LinkedIn

Friday 16 June 2017 • Reading time: 3 minutes

Our team of researchers have designed a bra that could make radiotherapy more dignified – and help to better target treatment to the breast

Every day around 150 women in the UK will be told they have breast cancer. Globally around 1.5 million women are diagnosed with the disease annually.

The majority of women that undergo breast-conserving surgery following a diagnosis of cancer undergo radiotherapy to the breast.

My team has been working on a specially designed bra to make this radiotherapy more comfortable, more dignified – and for women with larger breasts, it could help reduce the dose received by organs that lie close to the breast (for example the lung and the heart).

Why is it needed?

Since I first trained as a radiographer, radiotherapy equipment technology has developed at a rapid pace. But how we position the patient hasn’t kept pace with the developments in radiotherapy technology.

At the moment, women lie naked from the waist upwards and the radiographer positions them manually for their radiotherapy treatment.

A patient has at least 15 treatments across three weeks, and it is important to make sure the position of the breast is the same each time so that the radiation distributed across the breast is the same each time the patient attends.

This is important, both to make sure the patient has a good cosmetic outcome following treatment, and to reduce unnecessary doses of radiation to healthy organs that lie close to the breast, such as the lungs and heart.

How does it work?

Our support bra offers a more dignified method of keeping the breasts in the same position for each treatment. It may

  • facilitate accurate positioning of the breast
  • reduce the radiation dose received by normal tissue such as the lungs and heart in women with larger breasts
  • preserve the patient's dignity and modesty
A clinician looking at a CT scan
Every year around 1.5 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer

The future of breast cancer care

The bra is currently in the early stages of development. It has been tested on healthy volunteers and is about to undergo first clinical testing with patients. Eventually, we hope the bra will be manufactured and adopted as standard throughout the NHS.

These projects could only have come about by bringing researchers together with clinicians and businesses to work on projects collaboratively.

Sheffield Hallam University is uniquely placed to do this, thanks to our world-leading expertise in design, healthcare and materials engineering, combined with strong links with the NHS and the healthcare technology industry.

'Best Breakthroughs' recognition

In 2018, the SuPPORT 4 All project featured on the UK's Best Breakthroughs list, part of Universities UK's MadeAtUni campaign. Lead researcher Professor Heidi Probst subsequently featured in the campaign's Lifesavers list.

The campaign highlights how UK universities are at the forefront of some of the world’s most important discoveries, innovations and social initiatives. 

Logo: Made At Uni Lifesavers

About the team

This research is a collaboration between health researchers and art and design researchers at Sheffield Hallam, with input from researchers from Weston Park Hospital - part of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – and lingerie company Panache.

We have held focus groups with patients, interviewed oncologists and sought views from radiographers as part of the design process.

This project is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Invention for Innovation Programme (project reference II-LA-0214-20001). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

Logo: Funded by the National Institute for Health Research

About this project

Explore the people and organisations behind this research, and find related publications by the research team.

Related courses

Our teaching is informed by research. Browse undergraduate and postgraduate courses with links to this research project, topic or team.

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