Test Your Chest: this World Cancer Day, should we be using apps to open up conversation around Breast Cancer?
A research piece by the co-founders of shado in collaboration with CoppaFeel!
Whether it’s tracking a menstrual cycle or an audio guide to sexual pleasure, we are seeing an exciting rise in the use of technology and apps being used to inform people of both their bodies and professional medical knowledge. We can wave goodbye to Googling our symptoms – we’ve all fallen prey to Web MD’s speculative and scaremongering diagnosis in the past – as we welcome in a new era of verified healthcare apps.
In light of these trends, we have become increasingly interested in discovering whether these apps really are succeeding in opening up accessibility of medical knowledge on a day-to-day level.
In line with World Cancer Day, shado has been working with CoppaFeel! and their new Boob Bot to test the impact and experiences of using the ‘bot’ across different ages and genders. This Bot is a Facebook app; a ‘messenger assistant’ designed to provide people with the skills to check their own chest – with early detection of breast cancer being the main aim.
According to CoppaFeel!, “The messenger assistant will talk them through a boob-check, tailoring advice to help them get to know what’s normal for their body and get clued up on the symptoms of breast cancer. They’ll have the option to do the check in real-time, letting the bot walk them through the checking tips and doing it at their own pace.”
shado asked a number of 18-25 year olds across all genders to test the app and have documented the findings below.
1. Debunking myths around breast cancer
Among some of the largest misconceptions around breast cancer is the assumption that it is an illness specific to women. On the contrary, they start the proceedings with an inclusive, non-gendered introduction.
“CoppaFeel! didn’t assume my gender. One of the first questions they asked was whether I preferred the term chest, boobs or pecs to describe my body. Then they used this term throughout.” - Anna.
Despite the potentially alienating app name of ‘Boob Bot’ (could ‘Test Your Chest’ have been a better option?), the app offers language and advice for all people. This provides an important first step in working to remove taboos and stigmas on who should be checking, and encourages all people to understand their body better.
2. Open conversation and dialogue
The Boob Bot app proved to be an accessible way of not only checking your own body, but also simplifying the language around it. By removing medical – and often daunting – jargon, it seems likely that this could encourage more normalised and open conversations around the subject and the process.
The daunting prospect of ‘checking for lumps’ has been given a delicate makeover and is on its way to you in the form of a charming chat. Gone is the deep lull in the pit of your belly that medically-induced anxieties can bring. Gone is the patronising and restrictive jargon. Gone is the doubtful voice in the back of your head saying you’re missing the most important bits. Instead, you’re exchanging messages with a concerned and well-informed mate who tells you exactly what to check for in the same way that you would pass on the message, making you more likely to do just that. It is gender inclusive, checking in with your preferred word choices at the start. It is variety inclusive, peppering the chat with gifs, memes, pictures and diagrams of all body types, sizes, shapes and colours. The language is specific, casual and non-medical, making it feel as far away from an examination as possible. The steps make you feel confident that you haven’t missed a thing, whilst also not wasting any of your time. It is encouraging rather than intimidating, fuels conversations rather than extinguishes and opens the doors to everyone rather than no one.
3. Accessibility of information
The app itself, with its step-by-step process, is very easy to use. We’d be interested to know whether there was an audio-only version – but as visual apps go, it ticked the boxes.
There is still a shocking lack of early prevention around breast cancer, which implies first and foremost that there remains a lack of understanding and information by individuals on abnormalities and what to look for. Currently 5% of diagnosed cases are already at stage IV with breast cancer being the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women under 30 in the UK. As is explained on the charity website, “CoppaFeel! aims to ensure that all breast cancers are diagnosed at the earliest stage possible by educating people on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, encouraging them to check regularly and instilling the confidence to seek medical referral if they detect abnormalities.”
I think having more educational sex technology, particularly with inclusive and accessible language for a diversity of bodies, helps us create a better relationship with ourselves. I definitely feel more connected to my breasts knowing that I can look out for them and my health.
However, while this isn’t necessarily the purpose of the app, there is some information missing. This isn’t to criticise CoppaFeel! directly – for example, when it comes to the biology of female bodies, it was only last year that we were shown an image of what milk ducts look like on female chests – but speaks more to the lack of easily accessible and verified information outside of medical institutions.
The information itself was useful but I would have liked more details on what to look out for. Boobs can be lumpy when you touch them in certain ways. I would have preferred a more detailed description of what method to use during the examination and some info on what is normal and what to look out for as unusual.
That being said, the app doesn’t claim to replace a doctor. The purpose of the app is to provide individuals with a toolkit to understand their chests better and provide accessible instructions on how to check for abnormalities – which is successfully demonstrated in our final finding.
4. Increased confidence and understanding of your body
According to CoppaFeel “Just under half of 18-24 year olds aren’t confident they know how their boobs normally look and feel, or how to check them, and this lack of confidence is consistently the biggest barrier to checking for young people” (CoppaFeel! Bilendi research, May 2019 wave).
Step-by-step, at-home technology is a unique source of information. If you go to your GP, they know exactly what to look for – but you might not. The Boob Bot allows individuals to explore their bodies in their own time and space and, most importantly, provides a resource for knowing what is normal and what requires further medical inspection.
From all of our research and responses from those who tested the app, it seems that the greatest success of the Boob Bot is in its potential to open up a greater level of empowerment and agency over one’s own body.
We should know our bodies. We should regularly check our chests to know if things are normal or if something’s up. I know this and most people my age do, however, how often do I actually feel myself up and have I ever really known what i’m looking for? Not really. The CoppaFeel Boob Bot was a delight to use. Apart from the endless memes that kept me entertained, using the robot on Facebook Messenger simply reassured me that it really is that simple to know our bodies. A quick check to make sure everything is as it should be take’s two seconds and is super important! Will I forget to do this for another couple of years? Probably, but the bot has told me it will send a monthly reminder so no more excuses from me.
I found our chat super insightful with a friendly tone, as well as easy to navigate and visually fun with a diverse range of gifs. I could go at my own pace, in my own comfortable space, and ended up feeling much more confident with checking
While they should be seen as a complement to (rather than a replacement of) GP services, in an era of a tightly-overstretched NHS, health-focused apps are a fact-based and instantaneous method to support early detection. The Boob Bot demonstrates both the need for, and a solution to, testing your chest at home.
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