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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 17:34 UK time, Monday, 31 October 2011

Women across Wales know it's important to be aware of the early signs of breast cancer, but can a hand held device, called the Breastlight, be a useful tool in the fight against cancer? Or, at £86, is it cashing in on our health fears?



Designed to be used in the home, women are encouraged to use an LED light to look out for and remember changes in their breasts. According to the kit malignant lumps have an increased blood supply so dark areas or shadows could be a cause for concern.

Its makers say it's not a diagnostic tool, but on their accompanying video women using the Breastlight make conclusions about their own health including one woman who says, "obviously I haven't got a lump because it was all just a big red glow".

Since going on sale in 2006, 20,000 Breastlights have been sold to retail and medical outlets worldwide. They're on sale in 12 countries and in 650 Boots stores across the UK.

At Rhondda Breast Friends cancer support group, Diane Raybould and Sally Stoat have tested the Breastlight. Sally fears its cost and availability on the High Street could lead women to place their trust in it.

Sally told X-Ray, "It's quite expensive to buy, it's then people think because they've spent quite a lot of money, bought it from a reputable place that this is going to be a really good answer and perhaps rely on it".

But Diane thought the product could be useful as an addition to a wider breast awareness routine.

She said, "Anything that actually encourages people to check their own bodies is a really good thing.

In Wales there's alreday a comprehensive evidence-based, screening system for breast cancer. Women over 50 are invited to screening centres every three years for checks.

Dr Rose Fox

Dr Rose Fox

Director of Screening at Public Health Wales, Dr Rose Fox, is not convinced by home testing.

She said: "There isn't any evidence that introducing home testing is going to have any impact on someone's chances of dying from breast cancer.

"There are lots of different types of cancer, and they all look very different on the x-rays. If someone who didn't have that degree of training looked at a mammogram they wouldn't be able to tell what was normal and what was abnormal.

"Often it's changes, very subtle changes between an x-ray that was taken three years ago and an x-ray that we've just taken recently that will give the clue to actually this is something abnormal."

There are concerns that women using the Breastlight at home are expected to understand and compare changes they spot from month to month.

Dr Fox added, "Maybe they'd do it and feel that everything was all right when perhaps they should be being worried. The other end of the spectrum if you like is women trying to look and perhaps being anxious and not being sure what they are seeing."

Sally who's had breast cancer agrees that the Breastlight relies too much on the individual.

She said, "Most of us aren't medics so when you actually look at your breasts through it you can see your veins but do we really know what we were looking for. I know when I looked through it I thought that looks fine but is it ok?"

But Diane, who lost her daughter to breast cancer and had her own personal battle with the disease knows of some women who find the machine reassuring. She told X-Ray, "One lady come back, she had a lump in her breast, she'd actually gone to GP, the GP said don't worry it's a cyst there's no problem. She'd gone away. The worries hadn't gone away. The worries were still there, the lump was still there.

"She tried the lamp, she said I shone the Breastlight on my breast when I felt the lump was, it didn't show anything up and that really gave me a lot more confidence in what the GP has said."

The UK licensed the Breastlight for sale however, last November Canada recalled the product. Health Canada said there was no clinical evidence that the Breastlight could be used effectively as a screening device for the early detection of breast cancer.

Dr Fox added, "I'm not aware of any evidence - and if you think about it logically if there was that level of evidence there then maybe we should be offering those tests on the NHS rather than the breast screening programme that we currently do offer."

Breastlight's makers have told us they make it clear in their literature that they don't encourage women to use the Breastlight as a diagnostic tool to look for cancer, but as an useful addition to their breast awareness routine, and thousands of women use it in this way.

And Boots say it isn't a diagnostic tool and should be used with self awareness checks. It shouldn't be seen as a substitute for mammogram screening.  They also say  the product comes with information on how to use it properly and customers can also ask a Boots pharmacist for advice if they need to.


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