Breast cancer, the leading type of cancer in women worldwide, affects more than 2 million women each year. In 2018 alone, 625,000 women died from breast cancer. According to the World Bank, although developed regions have higher rates of breast cancer compared to developing areas, rates are increasing in nearly every region across the globe. When looking at breast cancer survival rates, one thing is certain: early detection is key to lowering death rates and so early breast cancer detection in Colombia is changing.
A Possible Solution
With more than 13,000 new cases of breast cancer in 2018 alone, Colombian officials have been focusing on initiatives that target early detection. By launching a pilot program through Discovering Hands, an organization founded in Germany that empowers blind women with a heightened sense of touch to feel for breast cancer, early detection is exactly what Colombia focuses on.
Breast mammography, or a mammogram as it is known colloquially, is sometimes too expensive for women in developing countries. Additionally, they are only available to women in Colombia who are over 50 years of age. Instead of solely using the traditional method of breast cancer detection, the mammogram, Colombia borrowed from Discovering Hands. The country put visually impaired women to work as medical tactile examiners feeling for breast cancer. The surgeon who coordinates the Discovering Hands project in Colombia, Dr. Luis Alberto Olave, said of the program: “They [MTEs] have this gift in their fingers. If they are trained, their disability can become a talent, a strength, and can be used to help other people. Nodules are the first cancer symptom. The faster we find them, the faster we will have any impact on the projection of the illness, and that may mean saving lives.”
Currently, in Latin America, only three visually impaired women work as medical tactile examiners, using their delicate sense of touch for early cancer detection in Colombia. These women have been proven to detect 30 percent more tissue variations in breast tissue than medically trained doctors. The Discovering Hands method is less expensive, more accurate and can find lumps that are 50 percent smaller than ones found by doctors. Additionally, some women in Colombia have expressed that they feel more comfortable going to women to have this examination performed versus male doctors.
These medical tactile examiners do not diagnose patients, rather they do an examination, then help set up an appointment with the doctor if they find any irregularities. This method of early cancer detection in Colombia is not only saving lives by early diagnosis of breast cancer, but it is also creating a fulfilling job for the visually impaired. As female patients are starting to flock to these medical tactile examiners, Colombia discussed expanding the program to provide more jobs for blind women. This would give more low-income women in Colombia access to breast cancer screening.
A Global Answer
Discovering Hands is currently in seven countries: Colombia, Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, Spain, Austria and India, and already performed over 10,000 exams. As the model continues to succeed in helping women with early breast cancer detection as well as giving fulfilling jobs to blind women, Discovering Hands is discussing repeating the business model in new countries. This program is unique in that it gives to the community while also providing a living for women who previously could not contribute to society. As breast cancer rates continue to grow, Discovering Hands is doing its part to lower the fatality rate of breast cancer.
– Kathryn Moffet