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Blind women use touch to detect breast cancer

Published by The Times of India

NEW DELHI: Using their power of touch, five blind women over the last four months have been able to detect pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions in around 17 women (or 3.5% of over 500 women examined) in C K Birla Hospital for Women in Gurgaon. Their findings were affirmed medically by radiological tests — mammograms and ultrasounds.
These outcomes draw attention towards the need for early detection of cancer through regular examinations. This first of its kind study claims high levels of sensitivity through physical examinations carried out by visually impaired women especially trained using tactile strips to map every centimetre of the breast. The Medical Tactile Examiners (MTEs) are able to detect lumps as small as 0.5 milimetres.
Voluntary organisation National Association for the Blind’s Centre for Blind Women in Delhi started training women to be MTEs last year to empower them professionally and financially. The nine-month course is being conducted in collaboration with German gynaecologist Dr Frank Hoffmann’s project “Discovering Hands”.


The training has been certified by Rehabilitation Council of Germany. Of the first group of seven MTEs, two were taken up by Fortis Hospital in Vasant Kunj and five by C K Birla Hospital for women in Gurgaon. Another batch of seven will soon be ready as MTEs.
As per data from C K Birla Hospital, nearly 900 women from Delhi and NCR underwent ‘Tactile Breast Examination (TBE)’ along with ultrasound breast for those below 40 years and mammogram for those above 40 years of age. In the last four months over 500 women were studied to evaluate the enhanced touch (Tactile Sensation) of a visually impaired MTEs.
The clinical findings of the study shared by Dr Mandeep S Malhotra, director, The Breast Centre at C K Birla Hospital for Women show that the MTEs have a very high level of sensitivity for detecting breast lesions. “Of the 500 cases examined, the MTEs reported 70% as normal and detected changes in breasts of 30% women. Radiological examinations affirmed the findings with 70% women found to be normal. Of the 30% with changes in breasts it turned out that in 15% there were non-specific changes like fibro cysts, 11.5% had benign breast lesions and around 17 women (3.5 %) had lesions that were either cancers or pre-cancers,” Dr Malhotra said.
“Less than 2%, women, were into any kind of active breast screening and during follow-up said they had started doing self breast examination and would continue with regular check-ups,” Dr Malhotra added. He, however, cautioned that MTEs were not a substitute for radiological testing but a supplementary check that mapped the entire breast area through a physical examination.
Dr Malhotra cited national statistics to point out that early detection was the need of the hour. “Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in India. Every year around 1.5 to 2 lakh new women are being diagnosed with breast cancer. As per ICMR data in urban areas 1 in 22 women are likely to be affected by breast cancer. 50% of them don’t survive beyond five years of the diagnosis,” he shared.
According to American Cancer Society Guidelines, the standard screening process of mammography, should start at the age of 45. “Breast cancer in Indian women is a decade younger in comparison to western women with peak incidence at 40– 50 years and Indian women have inherently higher breast density. Both the facts suggest limited application of screening mammography in Indian settings,” Dr Malhotra shared.
In this study of 500 cases, more than 70% feared breast cancer, but were unaware of what should be done. In 30 to 40% cases the woman above the age of 40 who underwent mammogram needed an ultrasound correlation, suggesting limited applicability of mammogram. “The good thing is that a check-up by an MTE can be done for women of all age groups. The focus should be on steering younger women towards prevention,” Dr Malhotra added.

 
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