Radiation-free breast examination for early cancer detection
'Discovering Hands’ project is an innovative public health model focusing on preventive healthcare, by promoting the productive employment of visually impaired women. These women are trained to use their heightened sense of touch to detect abnormalities in the breasts, and efficiently contribute in early detection of breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in India, today. Latest estimates by the Indian Council of Medical Research by 2020, suggest that India would register about 17 lakh new cases of cancer and over 8 lakh deaths due to it.
For Neha Suri, becoming a Medical Tactile Examiner (MTE) has given her a purpose and financial independence. She went blind before her husband died of bone cancer in 2016 at the age of 43, leaving her to raise her son alone. She works part-time, commuting between her home in Rudrapur and Fortis Hospital. Neha joins many other blind and visually impaired women who utilize their heightened sense of touch for the early detection of breast cancer by tactile examinations so that treatment can be started in time.
“I wanted to be independent after my husband’s death. After seeing the way, he battled with cancer, this training was ideal for me because I wanted to help women avoid cancer. Initially, I was really frightened that I might miss a lump during the breast examination. But now, I am confident. I see about 20 patients a month,” says Neha who completed a comprehensive nine-month long training to become a certified MTE in 2018.
‘Discovering Hands’ is a project that aims to make a positive difference in the area of breast cancer as well as to lend a helping hand for the visually challenged. This initiative is being implemented in India by the National Association for Blind (NAB) Centre for Blind Women and Disability Studies, a non-profit organization for visually impaired persons in collaboration with Discovering Hands, Germany and Bayer in India.
The blind women are trained and certified to deliver physical breast examinations at doctors’ clinics. They utilise their highly developed sense of touch that they develop over the years, whilst studying minute braille dots, to detect minutest abnormalities.
The detailed examination of the breast takes around 30-45 minutes, where the MTE checks every centimetre of the breast with the help of tactile tapes marked in braille. They also receive training in communication skills and administrative tasks typically carried out by a doctor’s assistant. They are either directly employed by resident doctors or hospitals, or work for different practices and or hospitals on a freelance basis.
Till date 15 MTEs have been trained and they are now employed at Medanta – The Medicity, Gurgaon and few are also engaged in community camps across India. Over the years, the ‘Discovering Hands’ program has impacted 5000+ women across 8 locations in 6 states of India.
Click to learn the self-breast examination technique: