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Against Breast Cancer has long been recognised as investors in education. We believe in supporting and developing young scientists who perform innovative research through innovative programmes such us our Junior Research Fellowships at Oriel College, or our PhD research roles at the University of Southampton. Recently we received an unusual request for support, from a student who, as part of her final year on a degree course, was interested in using her unique skills to develop an accurate breast examination tool to enable earlier diagnosis.

Breast models have been used to assist and educate healthcare professionals (HCPs) and the public. Emma Overend, a final year Special Effects for Film and TV student wished to design a new model with anatomically sound/different layers and structures within it to use as an educational tool. Working collaboratively with Dr Victoria Harmer at Imperial College teaching hospital a model was designed and prototype made.

To create a realistic and useful a breast examination model to aid identification of lumps and other structures. The tool was to be used two-fold; for the public to gain familiarity regarding breast health; lumps and what to report to their GPs, in addition to HCPs to gain a greater understanding and practice when learning how to perform breast examinations.

Emma began by contacting Against Breast Cancer with a request to gain access to an appropriate HCP to assist with the project. We introduced Emma to Against Breast Cancer Trustee Dr Harmer who agreed to help, discussing issues pertaining to the breast model such as interchangeable layers and lumps, and what structures could be contained within the model that would add learning. Incorporating areas such as the axilla and neck area were also considered.

breast examination tool

Silicone Samples of lumps (varying densities) for review

Discussions involved the trial and testing of elements of the practical approach, guidance was given in terms of the tactility of ‘cancerous’ lumps. Four silicone samples of differing thicknesses/densities of Platsil 25 were sent for assessment, enabling the appropriately dense sample/closest match to the feel of cancer to be selected and used in the final Breast Examination Model.

Two silicone ‘skin’ layers of the model were made, one to show a normal appearance, the other to illustrate nipple and skin changes associated with breast cancer.

After streamlining of thought, Emma travelled a London teaching hospital with the prototype model. She was provided access to multi- disciplinary team members who provided feedback on realism of the model to skin/tissue, how easy it was to palpate, additions of silicone lumps and other comments. The team also received feedback from a cancer charity who assessed the model.

breast examination tool

Completed Breast Examination Model with interchangeable layers/lumps

Surgeons, histopathologists, oncologists and radiologists each gave their assessment. Notably the model was a success in terms of its appearance, layering options. HCPs were impressed with its realism and the ability to illustrate different breast and axilla issues.

Areas for improvement were noted, such as the silicone feeling too firm when compared to breast tissue.

Feedback regarding the usability of the breast model was favourable. HCP’s confirmed its functionality, realism and the place for this tool to support education, both within the clinical arena (enabling an understanding/ practice when learning how to examine breasts), and also within the public domain to assist when promoting breast awareness and what to report to the GP.

breast examination tool

Dr Vickki Harmer

The project was recorded and documented in order for a poster to be created was presented at the North West London research symposium for NMAHPPs (nurses, midwives, allied health professionals, pharmacy staff and psychologists).

Emma was congratulated by all those involved for her skill and dedication to the project for which she later received a first class honours degree.