Through their heightened sense of touch, these women are able to detect breast lumps or changes that may indicate the presence of cancer
Visually impaired women are being trained to become medical tactile examiners (MTEs) in India in a pioneering initiative aimed at improving breast cancer detection in India, Guardian reported on Sunday.
Through their heightened sense of touch, these women are able to detect breast lumps or changes that may indicate the presence of cancer.
The program, introduced to India in 2017 by Discovering Hands, a social enterprise founded by German gynecologist Dr. Frank Hoffmann, has proven to be highly successful in empowering visually impaired individuals while significantly improving detection rates.
The British paper quoted Ritika Maurya, a 23-year-old trainee MTE at Enable India, a disability rights organization based in Bengaluru, who finds great fulfillment in comforting and reassuring anxious patients. Recognizing the fear and uncertainty that often accompanies breast examinations, Maurya goes above and beyond to provide emotional support to her clients.
The examination technique employed by MTEs involves using braille-marked documentation tapes to meticulously measure the breast centimeter by centimeter. Each examination session lasts between 30 and 40 minutes, and the findings are then conveyed to a doctor who determines the need for further assessment or diagnosis.
According to Dr. Hoffmann, quoted by Guardian, MTEs possess an extraordinary ability to detect lumps as small as 6-8mm, compared to the larger 10-20mm lumps typically identified by sighted physicians.
A recent study conducted by the NAB India Centre for Blind Women and Disability Studies (NABCBW) in Delhi examined 1,338 women and found that MTEs successfully detected 78 percent of malignant cancers while missing only 1 percent. These results indicate that the diagnostic accuracy of visually impaired MTEs is comparable to that of trained physicians or a combination of both.
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer globally, and in India, it is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. Alarmingly, 60 percent of breast cancer cases in India are diagnosed at stage three or four, significantly reducing survival rates.
With 18 MTEs trained thus far in Bengaluru and Delhi, six of whom are currently employed in cancer hospitals, the program continues to expand its reach. The next cohort of eight trainees, including Maurya, is set to graduate soon, and the selection process for the subsequent group will commence shortly thereafter.