Man's life saved through cell phone diagnosis

The statistics are shocking: sixty thousand of the Czech Republic's population of ten million are diagnosed with cancer every year. For many of them, the doctor's warning comes too late. Even though the figures are alarming, we tend to avoid the long and tedious check-ups that help reduce cancer incidence. Two doctors from the north Bohemian town Turnov have now found a way for "self-diagnosis" using the humble mobile phone. One life has already been saved.

The procedure is easy, fast, and simple. Answer eight straightforward questions with either yes or no, send them off in a mobile phone text message, and wait to hear from the health centre that evaluates your answers. The pilot project was launched this autumn in northern Bohemia and 200 people have tried it out so far. Close to 70 percent of those who were urged to see a doctor followed the advice. One man was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He recently underwent an operation and now has a very good chance of a full recovery.

Urologist Ivan Kolombo is one of the initiators of the project:

"We selected questions that would detect the symptoms of the most serious types of cancer - for urinary tract cancer, intestinal cancer, and breast cancer, for example. We have also prepared questions to uncover osteoporosis, which is a very common and serious problem. Patients tend to underestimate the symptoms or risk factors and often consult their physician much too late. So we're no longer concentrating on tumours alone."

Among the eight questions are: have any of your relatives ever had a tumour?, Do you smoke or have you been spending time in smoky places?, and Have you detected any blood in your urine?

The project is currently being tested in the Liberec region in northern Bohemia.

"So far we don't know for sure whether we are the first to have this idea. But my colleague, who came up with the scheme and got it patented says this form of testing has not been used in Europe or anywhere else in the world for health purposes. So it's quite possible that we're original and the very first."

If successful, the project's initiators hope it will become common practice around the Czech Republic. The questions would be accompanied by pictures to make it easier for people to check for symptoms and would be printed in the daily press, broadcast on television, and made available on the internet.