By Liam Davenport
Medscape Medical News
A campaign using lemons to teach women to recognize breast cancer symptoms and to break the taboos of discussing the condition has gone viral and has been used to educate people all around the world.
The #KnowYourLemons campaign, from the charity Worldwide Breast Cancer, uses a set of easily understandable visuals, in which pictures of lemons have been altered to illustrate 12 key changes in the breasts that could indicate the presence of breast cancer.
The campaign, which was the brainchild of a young designer who lost both her grandmothers to the disease, has now gone viral ― the image has been viewed more than 3 million times on Facebook and has been shared more than 40,000 times.
Moreover, the campaign has been featured by media outlets all over the world, including outlets in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, the Netherlands, and Poland.
But what is the secret of the campaign’s success in reaching so many people?
Corrine Ellsworth Beaumont, PhD, founder and director of Worldwide Breast Cancer, believes it’s because the campaign uses visuals, rather than reams of text, to harness the power of modern design principles.
Research has shown that patients recall as little as 14% of what they are told during consultations, even for non-life-threatening conditions, Beaumont says.
Furthermore, she says a substantial proportion of patients have “low health literacy,” and many feel uncomfortable talking about breasts and discussing the subject of cancer, even with their friends and family.
“This visual cuts through that because it’s very friendly, it’s approachable,” says Beaumont. “Patients can look at it, and they see lemons, but they interpret it as breasts.”
“It’s not overt, and I think that’s why it’s become so popular, because they understand in seconds without having to combat all of these hurdles of taboo and fear and large amounts of text.”
Beaumont did not expect the campaign to go viral, but was simply “hoping that I could reach as many women as possible.”
She began working on the #KnowYourLemons campaign more than 15 years ago, after the death of both of her grandmothers from breast cancer.
“I was in my early twenties, and I went to a cancer library and I asked them: ‘What do I need to know about breast cancer?’ And the person working there said: ‘I don’t really know what to tell you because no one your age comes in here,’ ” she recalls.
Beaumont explains that in approaching the library, she had several questions: “Am I at risk? When do I need to start getting screened? And what does a lump feel like? What should I be looking for when it comes to breast cancer?”
After reading all the leaflets and websites that she could find, Beaumont was left with more questions than answers.
“There wasn’t one resource that simply said: ‘Corrine, this is everything you need to know right now as a woman in her early 20s,’” she says. “So I thought design could make a difference here.”
Beaumont initially began working on the visuals as part of her master’s degree project and then for her PhD. Since then, the visuals have gone though many iterations and have been tested on hundreds of patients.
Although the visuals have been in development for the past 15 years, Beaumont did not begin promoting the campaign until she left her job teaching design at Kingston University in London two years ago and formed the Worldwide Breast Cancer charity. The visuals and accompanying leaflets have been translated into 16 languages.
She says she’s working on a project to help patients who have been newly diagnosed along with new materials for metastatic breast cancer patients. “That’s the hardest population to understand, because it’s not a straightforward path.”