This Company Is Using Visually Impaired People’s Enhanced Sense of Touch to Find Cancer

An organization in Germany called discovering hands® is training women with highly impaired vision to use their enhanced sense of touch to locate breast tumors as medical tactile examiners.

Medical Tactile Examiners
When Dr. Frank Hoffman was in the shower one morning, it occurred to him that blind people may be better able to detect tumors than he could, because of their much better sense of touch. He formed discovering hands®, a Duisburg-based organization to teach sight-impaired individuals to use their heightened senses to locate tumors by becoming medical tactile examiners.

Individuals with little to no sight develop heightened senses in other areas in order to cope with their disability. Many visually impaired people also learn to read Braille, further heightening their sense of touch. discovering hands® is working with women who fit these characteristics to teach them how to become medical tactile examiners. MTEs use their sense of touch to palpate the body in search of tumors. The organization has trained 20 blind or nearly sightless women to become professional MTEs, feeling for minuscule tumors that a regular doctor who does not have increased sense of touch abilities may not be able to find.

Adobe Stock/xixinxing
Photo: Adobe Stock/xixinxing

There are several benefits when using an MTE. According to discovering hands®, a typical doctor spends between one and three minutes using their fingers to palpate a breast checking for cancer. Medical tactile examiners, however, spend a least 30 minutes doing so, using a much more careful process and ensuring nothing is missed. As the MTE is performing the exam, he or she educates the patient about breast cancer, explaining things like how to do monthly self breast exams and how to cope with their risk of developing the disease.

The licensed MTEs who work with discovering hands® have undergone nine months of training to learn communication skills, breast-specific psychology, administrative skills, and the standardized diagnostic method to be used when examining patients. The organization and MTEs are currently only available in Germany and Austria, but there are plans to expand to other countries in the future.

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