Corrine Beaumont lost both her grandmothers to breast cancer at the ages of 40 and 62, and when she had a look for information on the signs of breast cancer she should be looking out for, there was surprisingly little out there to help her. She felt compelled to come up with something to help women like her - and thus, the Know Your Lemons campaign was born.
Lemons became a metaphor for breasts as she tried to make a simple, visual way to show what breast cancer symptoms can look and feel like. The box of lemons is a playful way to make checking your breasts less fearful: “Some patients don’t want to talk about breasts or look at them,” she said. “But even those with little literacy can understand this.”
According to Corrine, around one in three women are diagnosed with breast cancer because they found something between their regular mammograms (a free breast screening) and reported the change to their doctor. When found early, breast cancer survival rates are high - almost 100% when found in stage one - so being acutely aware of any changes is extremely important.
Dr Ram Prasad, Consultant Breast Surgeon who specialises in breast disease, breast surgery and reconstructive surgery at Pall Mall Cosmetics, says all women aged 50 and over are entitled to a mammogram and check-ups for three years up to their 71st birthday. “In otherwise healthy women with no medical or family history of cancer, 50 is the ideal age [for a mammogram]. I would say women - and men - over 30 should be checking for abnormalities at least once a month. While studies suggest it is uncommon for breast cancer to develop before the age of 30, the sooner you get into the habit of checking the better.”
Corrine explains some doctors don’t recommend self-examination because some women will find that if they don’t feel a lump, then there isn’t a problem (a mammogram can pick up a cancerous lump before you can feel it). Alternatively, some swing the other way and worry about every little lump and bump. “Our view at Worldwide Breast Cancer is that, rather than recommend against self-exam, we should be better at explaining how it works and the purpose of it,” she says. “The main message is, don’t think of a self-exam as a ‘hunt’ to find breast cancer or a formal medical procedure. Instead, see it as part of getting to know what is normal for you, how your cycle changes the landscape of your breasts every month, and how to be confident of the steps to take if a breast change doesn’t go away.”
So, what exactly are you looking for in a breast examination? Dr Prasad gives us the lowdown: “Lumps on the breast are quite common, most are benign, non-cancerous masses like cysts. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of other key changes besides a lump on the breast, such as discolouration of the skin on the breast, bleeding or discharge from the nipple and dimpling (texture of orange peel) on the skin. A good technique I recommend if you do suspect a change or lump is to compare that breast to your other.”
Dr Prasad adds it’s not just your breasts you should be checking - you’ll also find symptoms such as swelling or lumps in your armpit and along the collarbone, so don’t miss out these areas. “Another mistake women make is not timing your self-exam with your menstrual cycle,” adds Corrine. “You should be doing a self-exam at the end of your period, when your breasts are less affected by hormones.” Using the Know Your Lemons app, you can get reminders timed to your period, letting you know when the ideal time to check is.
To check your breasts, Dr Prasad says to start with your arms at your side and then raise them above your head. “Make sure to use the flat of your fingers rather than your fingertips, feeling clockwise for any lumps. Use your right hand to check your left breast and visa versa.”
However, it might be more helpful to get acquainted with checking your breasts using something more visual - the Know Your Lemons app will coach you through your self-examination, guiding you through every part of the breast, armpit and collarbone and what you should be feeling. There is a three-minute training video which goes over the different lumps and bumps in the breast so you can work out what’s normal and abnormal. It’ll coach you on the three positions too: laying down, bowing forward, and what to look for in the mirror.
Download the Know Your Lemons app here.
Find out more about World Cancer Day here.
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