Discovering hands® trains and deploys blind women to detect the early signs of breast cancer by using their highly developed sense of touch

Breast cancer – the burden and early diagnosis

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women both in the developed and less developed world. It is estimated that worldwide over 508,000 women died in 2011 from breast cancer (Global Health Estimates, WHO 2013). This represents about 12% of all new cancer cases and 25% of all cancers in women.

In all countries, early detection remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control in order to improve breast cancer outcome and survival. In health systems with developed infrastructure, physicians regularly examine the breast as part of a routine female check-up (usually once or twice a year) in addition to mammography. However, this routine procedure is  provided at varying levels of time investment and care.

Discovering hands has a number of advantages:

By using the extraordinary sensory capabilities of visually impaired women, a perceived “disability” is transformed into a capability. A completely new field of meaningful employment is created.

“Medical Tactile Examiners” (MTEs) are trained to deliver physical breast examinations at doctors’ practices. During a 9-month training period they learn how to use a standardized diagnostic method for examining the female breast. Additionally, all MTEs are trained in communication skills and breast-specific psychology, as well as administrative tasks typically carried out by a doctor’s assistant. MTEs are either directly employed by resident doctors or hospitals, or they work for different practices and/or hospitals on a freelance basis.

Conventionally, a regular breast examination carried out by a gynecologist takes between 1 and 3 minutes. The discovering hands MTE invests at least 30 minutes for each session, not only examining the breast, but also educating patients on how to cope with the risk of breast cancer. Patients feel that they are well taken care of and receive the best possible preventive examination in a pleasant environment.

Preliminary qualitative results, conducted by the University of Essen, show that MTEs detect ~50% more and ~28% smaller tissue alterations in the breast than doctors (5-8mm vs. 10-15mm). A clinical, peer reviewed study is currently being conducted at the University of Erlangen.

Our vision

We are operating as a social business because we believe in the our value proposition (to the healthcare sector, and institutions supporting people with disabilities). We are committed to the social “win-win” of our model: offering meaningful employment to blind women, and creating an opportunity for them where they have competitive strength; and helping to improve the breast cancer early identification situation and awareness for the most common cancer among women.

Current roll-out

Discovering hands is planning to substantially increase the number of MTEs in the years to come. We currently operate in Germany and in Austria. In both India and Colombia we have pilot projects running with scale-up in planning. And we are interested in further country roll-out, which we operate through a social franchise.

If you are a social entrepreneur and would like to implement discovering hands in your country, contact us. Also, if you are an impact investor and are interested in collaborating with us to further roll-out the model, please contact us too. We are interested in hearing from you!

Hands on

Its great to see the developement of your project… spreading out the idea and establishing it.

Passioned and caring about the women: The ones you work with and the women in general for getting access to a new kind of preventive breast cancer examination that is gentle and pleasent.

Thank you for your commitment :slight_smile:


I love this. Shifting the viewpoint to highlight the beauty and variety of people’s different abilities. It really does seem like a win-win idea. Your photo here looks so modern and stylish, but when I go to your website it falls a little bit flat in interesting content. The concept though is so beautiful.

I am a graphic designer, I can imagine a really beautiful brand overhaul to reflect this innovative project and an open source toolkit made for people/social entrepreneurs/investors who would like to implement discovering hands.

Freelancing in healthcare

I had to re-read the post because I didnt understand at first whether this new super original type of health workers would train to become personnel, or it would be a training that is more alternative medical practice.

I’m curious how freelancing works and if it is easy to become a temporary caregiver  in a hospital, clinic, or other medical facility with this certification? @jesslockhart  I think @jahn here was just reporting on the story, but maybe he knows the team personally to send your offer to them? That’s very kind of you to come up with a design idea!