Could this award-winning app help you spot breast cancer?

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  • We all know we should be regularly checking our breasts. But how many of us are actually doing it?

    The truth is, probably not that many. Or, at least, not enough of us. Yet, with news that almost one million women have missed out on vital breast cancer screenings thanks to the pandemic, it’s even more important for everyone to check their breasts regularly. Life does get in the way, that’s for sure. But the award-winning Know Your Lemons app could be the reminder you need to help spot breast cancer signs.

    Know Your Lemons is an app which helps women track their breast changes during the menstrual cycle and post menopause. Tracking those changes can really help with early detection. This is because getting to know your breasts can mean you spot any changes much easier and earlier. But that’s not all. The app can also remind you to book a mammogram exam.

    “Whether you menstruate anymore or not, this app is a gamechanger for early detection. It should be in every woman’s phone,” says Know Your Lemons’ founder, Dr Corrine Ellsworth-Beaumont. “Despite all of the attention breasts get, there really is very little we understand when it comes to taking care of our breast health.” Here’s everything you need to know to help spot breast cancer early:

    Why it’s vital for everyone to check their breasts

    Never checked your breasts before? It’s time to start today. “Only you can truly know your body,” says Dr Ellsworth-Beaumont. “If you ignore your breasts, it makes it difficult to report a change if it happens. The earlier cancer is found, the easier it is to treat, and the greater the chance for survival. For example, when breast cancer is found in the earliest stage, the survival rate is 99%, and often chemotherapy isn’t needed. Finding it early is the best way to improve lives. Self-exams are important, and mammograms can find a lump before it can be felt. You need both!”

    Spot breast cancer: 12 signs you should never ignore

    More than 55,000 UK women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Most have noticed symptoms and are referred to a specialist within two weeks. But do you know the 12 signs you should look out for?

    “Breasts do undergo normal change with age. For example, the tissue can become more fatty, and they can reduce in size,” says Dr Ellsworth-Beaumont. “But the 12 symptoms to know are the same for any age. Our app gives a detailed explanation of each which is super helpful.” Look for these changes:

    Breast cancer app" Know Your Lemons

    Credit: Know Your Lemons Foundation

     

    How lemons can help you track breast changes

    Not sure an app can work for you? “The reason why breast cancer is difficult to discuss is that breasts are associated with sex, and cancer is associated with death,” says Dr Ellsworth-Beaumont. “In order to talk about breast cancer, we have to overcome those obstacles. Because a lemon looks like a breast, but is friendly in appearance, it’s not associated with sex or death. And yet it can communicate the topic with complete clarity and ease.”

    This app can help spot breast cancer signs in several ways. “If you notice something different, you can go to that specific symptom on the app and report a change,” says Dr Ellsworth-Beaumont. “It then gives you the option to get a reminder in a month to see if it’s still there (if it’s not something you are particularly worried about), talk to a friend to share your concern, and talk to your doctor. The best advice we can give is always trust your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, reporting a symptom to your GP is important.”

    “The app explains how to talk to your GP, and what to expect in terms of testing to get answers,” says Dr Ellsworth-Beaumont. “Women have said that if it wasn’t for this tool, they wouldn’t have been able to advocate for themselves and get the testing they needed, when their GP dismissed their concerns. We’ve also had patients come to us saying that if they had seen our app earlier, they would have been diagnosed sooner. It’s our goal to have this app in every woman’s phone to help save lives. It’s free and a joy to use, so why not?”

    Is breast cancer hereditary?

    Almost 90% of women with an affected first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child) won’t develop breast cancer. However, some of us (fewer than one in 400) carry abnormal genes that significantly increase risk. Up to two-thirds of women who carry the BRCA1/ BRCA2 gene mutations develop breast cancer by the age of 70.

    Your personal risk may be affected if you have Jewish ancestry, an affected male relative, or a relative who has had breast cancer on both sides. Plus, ovarian cancer, a brain tumour, or a childhood adrenal gland tumour, or relatives who developed cancers at an early age. If you’re worried, find out as much as you can before consulting your GP.

    “Most women diagnosed with breast cancer are the first in their family to get breast cancer,” says Dr Ellsworth-Beaumont. “Thinking that not having a family history of breast cancer is a myth that prevents women from getting screened and finding it earlier. The reality is very few who are diagnosed have a family history of it. Just being a woman and getting older increases your risk. Our app explains these risk factors clearly.”

    You should always be breast aware. If there’s any doubt, NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) says you should be referred to a breast specialist or genetic clinic for assessment.

    What is a mammogram and who is eligible?

    Screening uses X-rays to detect early breast cancers before there’s an obvious lump. If you’re registered with a GP, you should receive an invitation every three years between 50 and 70 (older women can request one). You’ll be given an information leaflet. Two X-rays are taken of each breast (it’s slightly uncomfortable), and results are sent by post. 

    Four in 100 women get recalled for more detailed screening. One of these will have breast cancer and be offered treatment. Screening saves one life for every 200 UK women screened (around 1,300 lives each year), But, for each life saved, another three women are diagnosed with cancers that would never have become life-threatening.

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