Colombia's blind women emerge from the shadows to fight breast cancer
Colombia's fight against breast cancer has acquired a new, powerful weapon.
Five women, all of them blind, have been specially trained to use their fingertips to detect breast cancer.
Breast cancer is one of Colombia's biggest killers, detection is a major challenge
Breast cancer is responsible for 2,500 deaths a year in Colombia. Every year, 7,000 new cases are detected and the detection equipment is not advanced, so detecting the disease early is a major challenge.
The blind women are among the latest practitioners to use a method that was made popular a decade ago by German doctor Frank Hoffman. Hoffman noticed that the blind have an innate facility to detect nodules, or groupings of cells, which may be the first signs of the disease.
Doctors at the local hospital say that the blind have an increased sensitivity and a greater sense of touch,. Hoffman's method was tested in Germany and Austria and has now been brought to South America.
Five women between 25 to 35 years, with no vascular or neurological problems that could block their sensitivity, were chosen for training. Later they became tactile examining assistants. So far they have checked over 900 patients.
The women say that they are also challenging the stigma that because of their disability, they are unable to think or do things for ourselves.
Hospitals say checks by blind assistants better than regular tests
Patients say they find a greater sense of well-being and comfort after being examined by the blind assistants as compared to doctors using traditional methods. While self-examinations can detect masses of between 15-20 millimeters, the blind can find nodules as small as eight millimeters.
62% of Colombia's blind are unemployed, 7 times higher than national employment rate
Experts say that the work is an important way to get the blind into employment as well as tackle the stigma regarding disability.