A New Way to Detect Breast Cancer

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“Doctors literally placed the iBreastExam on the tummy of a pregnant lady to see if it could pick up the gender of a child,” Mr. Shah remembered. “I said, ‘This is ridiculous,’” because the iBreastExam device cannot identify the sex of a fetus.Nevertheless, he said, “People have great fear when a device looks remotely like an ultrasound.” The core objective of a screening program is to improve survival rates. To that end, iBreastExam, like other community-based health screenings, relies on a strong referral system and linkage to care for women whose scans signal a need for further testing. “Any screening without follow-up is useless,” said Sumana Y, a doctor with Biocon. India’s public health care system is marked by long waits, poor care and worker shortages. That’s why private hospitals, often out of reach for the poor, are so popular. Moreover, most cancer centers are in cities. Dr. P. Raghu Ram, immediate past president of the Association of Breast Surgeons in India, said breast cancer is also an issue shrouded in stigma. The disapproval is rooted in a widespread belief that cancer is a sign that a woman has done something bad, in fear of death and in a taboo against discussing “women’s diseases.” “India is facing a breast cancer tsunami,” Dr. Ram said. “The data reported is just the tip of the iceberg. I feel the major barrier in women getting opportunistic screening is it’s a taboo closet issue.” Nevertheless, Dr. Ram believes that the influence, reach and respect that community health care workers have in India could override the taboos and start to open discussions with women about cancer. iBreastExam is not a panacea for the detection of breast cancer. Experts agree that a simple blood test is the ultimate goal. But for now, this tool can save lives and revolutionize breast cancer screening in many countries. “It’s all about access now,” Mr. Shah said. “Innovation is only as good as its reach.” Sophie Cousins is an Australian writer and freelance journalist.To receive email alerts for Fixes columns, sign up here.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

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