The life-saving T-shirt

While spending time getting to understand breast cancer patients as part of her postgraduate thesis, Asst Prof Jinpitcha Mamom knew too well the pressure and anxiety facing those sick ladies.

Asst Prof Jinpitcha Mamom and her award-winning innovation, a special T-shirt for mammograms. photos: Jetjaras Na Ranong

“Back then, I talked to around 60 breast cancer patients. Over 80% of them said they felt shy to undergo a mammogram, which led to late detection. I saw their faces while they were having the test and I felt I had to do something to help them,” recalled Jinpitcha of her master’s degree project at the Faculty of Nursing of Siriraj Hospital under Mahidol University.

Video by Jetjaras Na Ranong and Arusa Pisuthipan

A former nurse and now a lecturer at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Nursing, Jinpitcha said although a mammogram is considered an effective method used for the diagnosis of breast cancer, a number of women still feel reluctant to have the test as they are required to reveal the upper part of their bodies. Although some detect a lump through self-screening, they do not feel comfortable to pay a specialist a visit.

“This is one of the reasons why a lot of breast cancer patients come for a doctor’s visit when the disease already progresses to the second, third or even the final stage,” she said.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, cancer of the breasts is the most common cancer among women worldwide. In Thailand, the National Cancer Institute’s latest statistics from 2014 marked breasts as the number one leading site of cancer among Thais — male and female combined — followed by colon and rectum and lungs. In the preceding year, breast cancer was still No.1, with lung and colon cancer coming in second and third. In 2012, breast cancer was still the No.1 cancer experienced by Thais.

In 2014, the National Cancer Institute also reported 1,006 new breast cancer cases, a slight increase from 926 cases the year before.

Realising the importance of breast cancer screening technology like mammograms and the fear facing those undergoing the tests, Jinpitcha formed a team and came up with a special T-shirt designed particularly for women having mammograms. Made from pure cotton, Jinpitcha’s innovation looks like a typical T-shirt but with two openable pouches revealing only the breasts, instead of the entire upper body. Available in four sizes — S, M, L and XL — each T-shirt is produced for 200 baht.

The development process of the mammogram T-shirt, added Jinpitcha, took around two months where she worked alongside designers, radiologists as well as staff and medical practitioners concerned to make sure that the use of the T-shirt won’t cause any negative impacts while patients are having mammograms.

“It’s true we created the T-shirt but we are not the ones who use it,” she said. “Radiology technicians do. So it’s our responsibility to ensure they feel convenient and comfortable. If the T-shirt is so difficult to use, the chances that hospitals won’t buy into this idea are high.”

In 2014, the mammogram T-shirt won the bronze prize at the Seoul International Invention Fair, one of the world’s largest invention fairs held to showcase innovations by inventors and innovators from around the world. The team also earned special recognition for its excellent and creative effort to invent the T-shirt for mammogram examinations. Jinpitcha’s innovation has already been patented.

The T-shirt for mammograms was earlier tested in a hospital with 10 patients asked to put it on before having a mammogram.

“They said when compared to their previous mammogram experience, they felt more confident and less shy.”

Before putting her innovation into actual use, Jinpitcha and team plan to develop a new type of fabric that fits women’s shape better and at the same time does not affect radiation. This process is to be carried out with assistance from material scientists. It is expected that the special T-shirt for mammograms will be used at Thammasat Hospital at the end of this year.

“Right now the T-shirt is still in its development phase after which we can talk to healthcare providers deep in details about how it came about and how it would benefit patients in general before they eventually decide whether to use it at their respective hospitals. Until that time, our team would make sure our innovation renders no negative consequence, not a single one, because in the field of medicine and nursing, we allow no room for negative effects.”

Under the Thailand 4.0 policy underlining creativity, innovation and new technology, Jinpitcha is of the opinion that the country will see a lot of innovations for the sake of good health and wellness in the near future. For Thai scientists and researchers to come up with an innovation, she said, multidisciplinary collaboration is paramount.

“Today it is evident there are a larger number of researchers and academics who pay considerable attention to developing ideas to enable people to have a better life,” she commented. “To get to that point, experts from several related areas such as doctors, nurses and engineers have to work together. In the recent past, it has been proven that Thai innovators are as talented as those from other nations.

“The mammogram T-shirt is an example that we — medical practitioners — do care about the rights of individuals. We strongly hope that it will lessen not just patients’ worries but also play a significant part in early detection and subsequently curability of breast cancer.”

The T-shirt won the bronze prize at the Seoul International Invention Fair 2014. Jetjaras Na Ranong