At Snehita Women’s Health Foundation, breast examination for women is free of cost. Dr Regi Jose, the Medical Director of the non-profit organisation, believes that the service is priceless. Snehita (meaning female friend in Malayalam) was conceptualised in 2016 in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram out of the ‘constant worry about women who either lost their lives to breast cancer or have to compromise on quality of life post the surgery’.
Dr Regi’s husband, Dr Paul Augustine, is an oncologist who leads the breast cancer surgery team at the Regional Cancer Centre (RCC), a pioneer institute for cancer treatment in the state based in Thiruvananthapuram. “One third of Kerala’s cancer cases are treated at RCC. My husband used to constantly talk about the need for awareness about early detection,” Dr Regi tells TNM, explaining how Snehita was born.
In 2016, Dr Regi conducted a campaign for breast examination with a few of her friends. “It was through this campaign that we realised that there was a huge need for early detection of breast cancer,” she says. More friends and like-minded people joined Dr Regi, and together they formed Snehita, which has been providing free breast examinations to help in the early detection of breast cancer since its inception.
October has been declared Breast Cancer Awareness Month by the World Health Organisation, and Snehita has held free camps and awareness sessions every year since 2016, examining more than 25,000 women.
Dr Regi has developed an online tool called Snehita Risk Calculator to motivate women to be aware about breast examinations and not give up after one or two screenings. The tool, which calculates a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, was developed based on the Gail Model, a statistical breast cancer risk assessment algorithm developed in 1989.
“The Gail Model was mostly used in the US to find out the high-risk category of women for mammographic screening (scan used to diagnose breast cancer). While doing my MD in 2004, I developed a model similar to the Gail Model, but specific to Indian women. This was after studying the risk factors for breast cancer in 1,580 women in Thiruvananthapuram, which included both breast cancer patients and healthy women,” Dr Regi says.
Snehita has more than 100 women who have been trained to conduct breast examinations. Dr Regi asks women who opt for breast examination to come with a female friend, so that the latter can also be examined.