March 2, 2012 -- A sexy smartphone app that reminds women to check their breasts has raised eyebrows, and cancer awareness too.
The app, called "Your Man Reminder," lets users pick the "hot guy of their choice" to remind them to check their breasts for signs of cancer.
"We wanted a way for young women to be reminded to be familiar with their breasts in a fun, cute way that would not spark fear and go viral," said Alison Gordon, vice president of strategic marketing and communications for the Canadian charity Rethink Breast Cancer. "It really centers on early detection. We want to make sure young women know what their breasts look and feel like regularly and check with their doctors if they find anything unusual."
One in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society, and the chance of dying from breast cancer is about one in 36. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammograms every two years for women between the ages of 50 and 75. But for younger women -- the demographic targeted by Rethink Cancer -- breast changes can signal a problem that should be followed up by a doctor.
"I tell my patients, 'If you see a change, get it checked out,'" said Dr. Therese Bevers, medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "What kind of change? It doesn't matter. If it's different to you, let's get it checked out."
"Your Man Reminder" aims to encourage women to think about their breasts so they'll be more likely to notice small changes. A YouTube ad for the app starts with a doctors explaining how "studies have shown that women are more likely to watch a video if it features a hot guy." Then Anthony, one of five hot guys women can choose for their reminder, explains the TLCs of breast checking: Touch; look; and check.
"Start by touching your breasts in any way that feels comfortable for you. Try to be familiar with them, and the way they feel," explains a topless Anthony. "Be on the lookout for anything unusual. And if you want to, have a friend check you out. ... If you notice anything out of the ordinary, even if you're not sure, check with your doctor."
Bevers said the ad had her and her colleagues laughing.
"It's funny, and to the extent that it might increase a woman's awareness about changes in her breast, I think it's great," she said. "But the vast majority of breast cancers that women self-identify are accidentally identified during normal acts of daily living. They're showering or scratching, or putting clothes on."
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against teaching women breast self-examination – intentionally eying, palpating and squeezing the breasts looking for lumps, redness, dimpling or discharge.
"I think women feel very guilty when they don't do these intentional activities, and I don't think that's a good emotion for these women to have," said Bevers. "And we know from the data that it's not intentional activities that tend to find breast cancers."
Gordon said the app is not promoting breast self-examination, rather encouraging women to get to know their breasts so they can spot changes sooner.
"However you want to be familiar with your breasts, it's up to you," she said. "Whether you're showering or putting on bra, just be aware of your breasts."
Gordon said the app lets users choose how they want their hot guy reminder: Monthly; weekly; or "surprise me."
"In the past, health information was always pamphlets. You'd pick one up, maybe read it and then shove it in a drawer," said Gordon. "Now everyone has phone on them all the time, so you get this pop up and it's cute and you can share it with friends through Facebook. We can take these important health messages so much further than we ever could have before."
The Toronto-based advertising agency John St. produced "Your Man Reminder" pro bono for Rethink Breast Cancer. And on Tuesday, it was among 10 winners at TED's second annual "Ads Worth Spreading" contest.
"The feedback has been incredible," said Gordon. "We have more than 2 million views on YouTube and more than 70,000 app downloads. That's huge. Well, not compared to Angry Birds, but this is not a game."