How Blind People Help Diagnose Breast Cancer Through Touch
Christine Kanetzki takes almost an hour to examine the patient for breast cancer.
She gently feels every inch of her breasts and the lymph nodes under her arms, on her neck and near her collarbone.
The inspection gives him insight into the temperature, shape and firmness of the tissues.
Kanetzki, who is blind, has worked as a tactile physician examiner (MTE) for nearly 10 years, in gynecologists’ offices.
Employed as a specialist in the early detection of breast cancer, she currently works at the Paracelsus Hospital in Reichenbach, Germany, and also practices in other cities.
Not being able to see allowed her to develop a unique sense of touch, she says. “As blind people, that sense is something we depend on every day.”
Kanetzki found the job through Discovering Hands, which has trained nearly 60 people who are blind or partially sighted in MTE since 2011.
The company was founded by obstetrician Frank Hoffmann who often says that by the time a patient presents to a gynecologist with a lump, it may already be 1 to 2 centimeters.
In his daily work in his office, he often found that he did not have as much time as needed for breast examinations.
But specially trained blind staff can detect changes as small as 0.6 centimeters, according to their studies.
People have long doubted that people who are blind and their sense of touch can actually help with cancer screening, Kanetzki says. Now doctors trust her and act when she feels small changes, she says.
Such checks are recommended once a year in Germany, says Kanetzki, who has long been her state’s only MTE. “A lot of women come to see me regularly. Even former breast cancer patients have this type of additional screening.”
Sometimes tissue changes in the breast are normal, she says, adding that she can tell the difference between these lumps and more concerning lumps with her sense of touch.
MTEs are like medical assistants who relay their findings to a doctor who then makes a diagnosis and decides on further treatment, says Hoffmann.
The approach should be used among a range of cancer detection tests, says Susanne Weg-Remers of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, who cautions against setting too high expectations.
“Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that the method can reduce the mortality of breast cancer patients in screening examinations,” she says, adding that this also applies to palpation. by gynecologists.
A cancerous growth has to reach a certain size before you can feel it, she says, which is why MTE work, known as tactilography, is only recommended as an additional service for women aged 50 to 69. year.
It cannot replace a mammogram, which has been shown to reduce breast cancer mortality, according to Weg-Remers.
Blind or visually impaired women working with Discovering Hands are trained for 10 months under medical supervision before qualifying, Hoffmann says.
Most public and private health insurance funds in Germany now cover the examination costs.
Regarding breast cancer screening, Weg-Remers says the German Cancer Research Center advises regular checkups, but notes that no screening method is completely reliable. “All carry the risk of false alarms,” she says.
Later invasive tests like a biopsy carry additional risks, which can lead to bleeding or infection. Moreover, not all tumors are malignant or would necessarily grow aggressively, according to the expert.
However, all patients subsequently undergo cancer treatment, although it is not always clear if this would have been necessary. Weg-Remers stresses that it is therefore up to each patient to decide which screenings and tests they wish to carry out. – dpa