In the UK alone, breast cancer accounted for around 11,500 deaths in 2021, making it the nations’ second most common cause of cancer death.
Despite this, many women fail to perform their monthly checks, with 64 per cent of women aged 18-35 admitting they do not regularly conduct self-examinations. If breast cancer is detected at the earliest stage then almost all women survive, making early detection vital.
Recent graduates of Innovation Design Engineering at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art, Debra Babalola and Shefali Bohra identified different methods and conflicting information advising women to perform self-checks, which can often lead to women not performing routine checks all together. Dotplot aims to reverse this by enabling and encouraging women to stick to a regular breast-self check routine.
When Dotplot is in use, the user builds a personalised map of their torso by providing their bra size, breast shape and by sliding the handheld device to rescale the baseline model. Once set up, the app guides women through the self-check by showing which areas they need to scan. A sound signal is emitted to record the tissue composition at each site. The point that the user needs to check flashes on the app until a reading has been taken. Each month's reading is compared to the previously recorded readings to highlight any abnormalities developing in the tissue. Users will be notified if there are any suspicious changes compared to the previous month and advised to visit a healthcare professional for further investigation.
Babalola and Bohra hope to develop the device further to be able to apply the technology to monitor for other tissue changes, such as those associated with testicular cancer and soft tissue sarcoma.
When developing the device, the team used sound waves to detect lumps within a breast surrogate and found clear differences in readings in areas with and without lumps. The prototype, which detected lumps up to 15mm deep, was further refined and machine learning was employed to sample different lump sizes at different depths.
On winning the James Dyson Award, Babalola said: “Finding out that we had won the UK National James Dyson Award has been completely surreal. Seeing previous projects that have won the award has been so inspiring for us and winning this really takes us to the next level of our development.
“The goal is for Dotplot to make breast self-checks become routine for women across the globe and to help catch any suspicious changes as soon as possible.”
Existing scanners and devices have been developed and designed for use within clinical settings and nothing exists to assist women in performing examinations from home.
“Winning the James Dyson Award gives us the validation that Dotplot is an idea worth pursuing,” said Bohra. “You need that motivation at each and every point of product design, especially when you hit a low.”
Dr Frankie Jackson-Spence, Dyson Advocate and Oncologist says: “Knowing how to spot the signs and having the confidence to know when to go to the doctor and get checked out is key to early detection and better outcomes. Babalola and Bohra ’s creation, Dotplot, is an exciting concept. It could give many women the knowledge and confidence to perform guided self-breast checks regularly and take action when they notice something abnormal.”
Winning the national leg of the James Dyson Award will inject £5,000 into Dotplot’s project. Babalola and Bohra aim to commercialise Dotplot and will use their £5,000 award for further research and medical testing.
Dotplot now progresses to the international stage of the James Dyson Award.