Duisburg-based gynaecologist Frank Hoffmann began the programme two years ago to improve the quality of breast palpation, which he says is often rushed in busy German doctors' offices.
“The only compulsory breast exam for women under 50 is the manual breast exam,” he told the magazine's website. “The time constraints for this are just too bad. I can't examine the breasts for 30 minutes, I have a few minutes at most.”
So far 10 blind women have been trained as Medical Tactile Examiners (MTUs) at the BFW occupational school for the blind in Düren. Their certification is recognised by the North Rhine-Westphalia medical association.
New instructors are being trained in Düren and the programme hopes to have MTUs place in Mainz, Nuremberg and Halle by April 2010, the magazine reported.
MTUs are able to take their time with patients, and when they find something, identify its location exactly for doctors, who then decide on the appropriate treatment. Each exam costs between €25 and €30, but so far only one health insurer covers the charges, Der Spiegel reported.
A study of the programme at the Essen University women's clinic showed that MTUs found more tumours and smaller tumours than doctors in 450 cases.
“It's like playing Battle Ship,” 57-year-old MTU Marie-Luise Voll told the magazine. The former nurse lost her sight three years ago and has since developed her tactile skills reading Braille. “If we find an abnormality, we can tell the doctors exactly where,” she said.
Each year some 50,000 German women are diagnosed with breast cancer, while 15,000 die from the disease, Der Spiegel reported.