Breast Cancer Care

This case study is a great example of employing the principle:

Build for sustainability

Every year nearly 62,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK, and there are an estimated 691,000 living with a diagnosis. This figure is predicted to rise to 840,000 by 2020.

Breast cancer takes a huge physical and emotional toll. The end of clinical treatment is only the start of women rebuilding their lives, and Breast Cancer Care wanted to explore how digital could help address women’s emotional needs, which are often overlooked.

Through an intensive process of speaking and testing with potential users, the team created BECCA, an app with over 300 simple daily ‘life-hacks’ to help women adapt, recover and rebuild their lives post-treatment.

However, building an app is just the start of the process. The team had to consider how they would keep the service running.

The team believed in the principle of Build for Sustainability from the start. That meant even in the first phase of development they were considering how they would support the growth of the app in the longer term.

By analysing both the staff and technical requirements of the app, they realised they had some key issues to consider. From a technical perspective this meant developing a clear roadmap with their development partners, Super Being Labs, and mapping out the ongoing technical costs including developing new features and fixing bugs. From a staff perspective, because the app offers women ongoing support, it would need its content updating regularly. That would be quite labour intensive and require staff to continuously search for and upload content.

The team made crucial steps to explore options for financial sustainability early on in the app’s development. This went beyond looking for grant funding; for example they engaged Breast Cancer Care’s Corporate Partnerships Team to discuss opportunities to work with the charity’s commercial supporters.

Simultaneously they looked to reduce the costs of sourcing content. After exploring different options, the team decided to use machine learning, via technology company Skim Technologies, to automatically scrape and filter content from the web. This reduces the dependency on staff time, and allows a far wider range of content to be pulled into the app. It also captures new bloggers, forum conversations and news articles that previously might have fallen through the net. Breast Cancer Care can now direct more personal, relevant content to each user at a scale otherwise impossible.


The team’s hard work paid off. While exploring these options they secured £655k from the Big Lottery Fund to develop the app. This means they can further grow their existing user base of 12,000 to an anticipated 36,000 users by 2020.

About the Principle
Build for sustainability
How does this apply to the case study?

We’re often attracted to invest in new things, but not in maintaining existing things. Consider how sustainable your product is likely to be before you build it. This means realistically thinking about the ongoing cost of maintaining the service and how the money will be generated to do this.