Gynecologist Frank Hoffmann, has introduced the use of blind examiners because of their well-developed sense of touch.
In Germany, breast cancer is the biggest killer of woman aged 40 to 44 and causes a fifth of occurrences in women under 50s. However, only to women aged between 50 and 69 receive routine mammograms, so cancer outside that age group must be detected by a physical examination.
“The idea occurred to me that one could improve the breast exam if it were performed by a gifted woman with a highly developed sense of touch — and the blind have the best sense of touch of anyone,” Dr Hoffmann said. “A woman can herself feel a tumor of between 1cm and 2cm. That is also what a doctor can find. A trained blind person can detect between 6mm and 8mm.”
Such a difference could make all the difference in detecting cancer before it spread throughout the body, he added.
Dr. Hoffmann operates in Duisburg and founded the Discovering Hands project, which is teaching blind women in four centers around Germany and has already trained 16 examiners.
Tanja Roye, 32, lost her eyesight at 19 from retinal cancer and has become one of the medical tactile examiners. “If I find anything unusual, I can pinpoint it with centimeter accuracy,” she said.
Another benefit of the program is that it provides jobs for blind women who otherwise would be shut-out of the workforce, Dr Hoffman said.
Other countries are looking favorably at the program to adopt, and Dr. Hoffmann believes that it could be extended to other medical checks. “We could consider prostate examinations performed by blind men,” he said.
Some of the critics of this controversial project say that some lumps may be benign but could trigger medical procedures, including unnecessary surgery, and cause anxiety to patients.
“The finer and more precise the diagnostic techniques are, the more clinically irrelevant cancers will be detected,” said Gerd Gigerenzer, director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.