Visually Impaired Can Detect Breast Cancer Earlier
Sakshi Dalmia is visually impaired and works as a tactile examiner at "discovering hands". The aim of her work is to detect breast cancer early, which can increase the chances of survival. The Bayer Prayas Foundation is supporting the project.
She cannot see. Sakshi Dalmia is visually impaired. However, Sakshi has incredibly sensitive fingertips. Millimeter by millimeter, she examines a patient’s breasts following a strip of tape. By doing this, she can detect things that others do not notice. She is able to find lumps at very early stages which increases patients’ chances of survival.
Improving the chances of recovery for those with breast cancer
“The earlier a breast tumor is detected, the better it can be treated.” That’s what the German gynecologist Dr. Frank Hoffmann had in mind when he founded the not-for-profit organization “discovering hands” around ten years ago.
Dr. Hoffmann felt that there were two things missing from a really thorough medical check-up in his every day practice: the required sensitivity in his fingers and time. Then the idea came to him to train blind and visually impaired women like Sakshi Dalmia as tactile examiners.
"discovering hands" increases early detection of breast cancer
In Germany, "discovering hands" has been increasing early detection of breast cancer for around the past ten years. Now the project has been rolled out in other countries including India with the support of the Bayer Foundation.
Why is Bayer supporting discovering hands in India?
Suhas Joshi, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, South Asia, explains:
“In India, breast cancer is on the rise among 30 to 40 years-old women and up to now, there hasn’t been a reliable detection method for these age groups. A mammography, which is an effective method to detect breast cancer in India, is recommended for women over 45. discovering hands fills the gap.
We also want to increase women’s health awareness. They should go to medical check-ups so that potential illnesses can be detected early. We are glad that, thanks to these kinds of initiatives, we are able to help improve people’s lives.”
Those who come to see Sakshi Dalmia at the CK Birla Hospital in Gurgaon, India, generally don’t have any complaints or symptoms and hope that everything is fine - or that the tactile examiner will discover any changes at a very early stage.
Visually impaired can feel lumps of 0.5 cm whereas doctors can only feel those that are 1-2 cm
The chances for this are very good. The procedure lasts around 40 minutes. The smallest lumps, which Sakshi and other tactile examiners find, are 0.5 cm in size - in other words, pretty small. According to Hoffmann, doctors tend not to find such changes when carrying out breast examinations: “They typically only find tumors when they are between 1 and 2 cm in size.”
How reliable are the findings of the tactile examiners?
Seven Indian tactile examiners carried out more than 500 screenings between October 2018 and October 2019. They noticed abnormalities for 57 women. Further investigations confirmed all 57 cases.
Sakshi Dalmia is not allowed to tell the women if she discovers something or not; this task is reserved for doctors.
Sakshi Dalmia would never have believed that, one day, she would be working alongside doctors in a hospital. She was in her mid-twenties when an eye disease changed her life forever. Her eyes became worse and worse until, at 27, she was completely blind, and she had to give up training for her dream job in commerce.
Job as an examiner provides a livelihood
She heard about "discovering hands" and applied for an apprenticeship as a tactile examiner. Since August 2018, she has been carrying out examinations on patients as a fully qualified Medical Tactile Examiner. The job is also important for Sakshi Dalmia’s life. It provides her with a livelihood.