School­girls learn to look for can­cer

A project led by two doc­tors is teach­ing teenage girls how to ex­am­ine them­selves for breast can­cer

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY ROSA DO­HERTY

A GROUP of pupils gather in their school hall and ner­vously ap­proach the life-sized rub­ber breasts dis­played in front of them.

The 60 girls at Kan­tor King Solomon High School in Red­bridge, Es­sex, are tak­ing part in a les­son with a dif­fer­ence. Rather than sit­ting through their tra­di­tional assem­bly, the year 11 and 12 pupils are be­ing in­structed, for the first time, on how to check for lumps that could be warn­ing signs of breast can­cer.

The ses­sion is part of the “Be­friend Your Boobs” project set up by doc­tors Michelle New­man and Michelle Feriss. Their aim is to ed­u­cate Jewish girls about the threat of can­cer.

Dr New­man ex­plains: “Some fam­i­lies have an in­her­ited gene mu­ta­tion that can in­crease the risk of de­vel­op­ing cer­tain types of can­cer.

“For women of Ashke­nazi back­grounds there are three spe­cific gene faults known as BRCA that are seen more com­monly in the Jewish pop­u­la­tion.”

Dr Fer­ris, who launched the project at North Lon­don Col­le­giate School in Stan­more, north-west Lon­don, be­fore tak­ing it to Jewish schools, adds: “We wanted to give girls a set of skills to re­duce their in­di­vid­ual risk of breast can­cer and to pick up tu­mours early.”

Firmly prod­ding one of the model breasts un­der the armpit, Dr New­man tells the pupils: “If you don’t feel there, you could miss this one here.”

She moves on to iden­tify and point out a big­ger lump to a group of eight pupils.

“I think most of the girls we see miss this one, so what we are aim­ing to do is teach them how to check the whole breast,” Dr New­man ex­plains.“What you need to do is feel all of the breast tis­sue and not miss re­ally large ar­eas.”

It is the first time 17-year-old Han­nah Mar­con­teh, who has a his­tory of the BRCA gene in her fam­ily, has been shown how to check her breast.“It is a big thing for me be­cause of my fam­ily his­tory,” she says. “I’d never checked my breasts be­fore but I am go­ing to start do­ing it.”

As she leans for­ward to prod one of the model breasts with her in­dex fin­ger, she says: “I thought you had to go like that to feel it.”

Her friends of­fer a col­lec­tive nod of agree­ment as Dr New­man ex­plains a bet­ter way to ex­am­ine the tis­sue:

“Your fin­gers are very sen­si­tive, so if you put your fin­gers to­gether whilst work­ing your way round, it is a much bet­ter way of check­ing,” she says while show­ing the group the cor­rect method.

“Ex­am­in­ing your­self is like a life skill, a bit like clean­ing your teeth ev­ery day. I’m not ask­ing you to do it ev­ery day but we are ask­ing for you to do it reg­u­larly.”

The BYB project has al­ready vis­ited 11 schools, and ed­u­cated more than 2,500 Jewish stu­dents about the risks of breast can­cer.

The doc­tors say it is im­por­tant to speak frankly about what dif­fer­ences the girls can ex­pect from their breasts and how best to recog­nise a change that could be wor­ry­ing.

Dr New­man says: “They might be dif­fer­ent sizes, you might have nip­ples point­ing in. You might have one in and one out and that is fine, if that is what it has al­ways been like, but what we are ask­ing you to notice is for some­thing out of the or­di­nary.”

Talia Levy, 16, knows about breast can­cer, hav­ing sup­ported her mother through treat­ment two years ago.

She says: “My mum got tested for the BRCA gene and found out she doesn’t have it, but she still had breast can­cer.”

The teenager adds: “I think everyone should learn about can­cer and how it can be a risk. She felt some­thing that turned out not to be can­cer, but when they were ex­am­in­ing her they dis­cov­ered some­thing else that was.”

The year 12 pupil says she reg­u­larly checks her own breasts and the ses­sion has taught her “how to do it prop­erly.

“It doesn’t em­bar­rass me talk­ing about it,” she adds. “I think it is im­por­tant and I would talk about it with my friends, too.”

Chloe Ziff, 17, says: “I have checked be­fore but I don’t re­ally know what I’ve been look­ing for.”

Her friend, 16-year-old Jessica Perseu, adds: “I’ve had a look for a lump be­fore but I don’t re­ally know what it looks or feels like, so be­ing able to feel what that is like is re­ally help­ful.”

As part of the ses­sion, the girls are taught the dif­fer­ence between ge­netic risks such as the BRCA gene and life­style risks such as drink­ing al­co­hol and hav­ing a poor diet, such as too much sat­u­rated fat and low Vi­ta­min D.

Molly Leck­er­man, 16, was un­aware there were life­style fac­tors that in­creased her risk of breast can­cer.

Re­becca Saun­ders, 17, was sur­prised to learn that tak­ing the con­tra­cep­tive pill low­ered the risk of some can­cers, yet slightly in­creased the risk of breast can­cer.

She says: “I found that a bit con­fus­ing be­cause you don’t know if it is good to be on the pill or not. I didn’t find the ses­sion scary, but it was very in­for­ma­tive in a sur­pris­ing way. It has made me aware I need to start check­ing.”

Lisa Par­odi, a year 12 stu­dent, says she never “thought about can­cer in the sense that it could be me.

“They talked about stand­ing in the mir­ror with your top off to ex­am­ine your­self, and that made sense.

“I kind of al­ready do that be­fore I go in the shower but it is good to know it is what we are sup­posed to do.”

We are ask­ing you to notice some­thing out of the or­di­nary’

Teenagers at Kan­tor King Solomon get to grips with the pros­thetic breasts

The ‘Be­friend Your Boobs’ project sees girls en­cour­aged to check false breasts for lumps

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