Thermography for Breast Cancer Screening
About 1 in 8 American women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. This staggering statistic comes with some good news: breast cancer is largely a preventable disease. While breast cancer awareness is critical, more focus needs to be placed on breast cancer prevention and proper screening.
Our society tends to portray cancer as a monster that attacks indiscriminately, leaving many feeling powerless and ill-fated. We must remember that each of us has autonomy over how we treat our body and pursue health, and that dietary and lifestyle choices are the true underpinnings of the disease. We can choose whether or not to eat a healthy diet, exercise, or limit alcohol. These choices will directly influence the likelihood of genetic or environmental expression.
We can also choose which breast cancer screening method to use. Most doctors are best familiar with mammograms and will recommend them as the only screening option. The reality is that there are other breast cancer screening options that have been thoroughly researched and tested, and that yield highly accurate results. One of these highly effective, safe, and pain-free tests - that is even better than a mammogram - is thermography.
What is Thermography?
Breast thermography measures infrared radiation (heat) that is constantly radiating away from the surface of the skin. Skin, the body’s largest organ that breathes, has many functions: it exchanges gases with the environment, cools us, and keeps us warm by letting heat out or keeping it in by controlling the amount of circulation, or blood flow, in the skin. This subconscious process controlled by the autonomic nervous system is called thermoregulation. The procedure of thermography is based on the principle that precancerous and cancerous masses are highly metabolic tissues and need an abundant supply of nutrients to maintain their growth. To sustain this, existing blood vessels remain open, inactive blood vessels are activated, and new blood vessels are formed through a process known as neoangiogenesis. This vascular process results in an increase in regional surface temperatures of the breast, which can be viewed with infrared imaging cameras. Thermography can also detect the distinct appearance that activated blood vessels exhibit.
Thermal imaging detects changes at a cellular level, which gives thermography the ability to detect precancerous activity 8 to 10 years before any other test. This gives women the exceptional opportunity to view the changes before an actual tumor forms, and to then make progressive dietary, lifestyle, and mindset changes in response, ideally correcting any imbalance before anything cancerous develops.
Thermography vs. Mammograms
Mammography is an x-ray that produces a structural image or internal anatomy view. Thermography, meanwhile, measures heat emissions and provides information regarding the biological activity of the breast tissue. A mammogram is a structural test, while infrared imaging is a functional test. As a functional test, thermography can detect abnormalities that other screening methods cannot. Additionally, since functional changes precede structural changes, thermography can provide early indications of breast disease and cancer, which is uniquely valuable.
Both screening methods have their downfalls. To start, thermography cannot diagnose breast cancer, as a biopsy is the only way to obtain an official diagnosis. Thermography measures increased vascular activity, which can not only be an indicator of precancerous cells (as described above), but can also reveal fibrocystic changes, infection (mastitis or breast abscess), injury or trauma, and even hormonal influences. Heat is also an indication that inflammation exists, and inflammation is typically present in cancerous and precancerous cells as well as in arthritic joints and torn muscles and ligaments, all of which thermography can also detect. These detections, however, are not in danger of leading to a misdiagnosis, as a trained physician can analyze the results or can request further testing to confirm the cause of the increased heat. On the other hand, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recently changed its mammogram recommendations: they advise that regular testing should now begin at age 50 rather than 40, and that mammograms should be done every 2 years rather than annually. The reason for this change is due to the risk of additional and unnecessary testing, which far outweighs the benefits of annual mammograms. Mammograms often lead to unnecessary treatments and have been linked to a 20% increase in mastectomies, with many being unnecessary. For every case of breast cancer diagnosed, 5 to 10 women will undergo a painful breast biopsy. In addition, mammograms expose us to small doses of radiation, which can accumulate over time and have adverse effects.
Thermography produces unambiguous results, which cuts down on additional testing, and has no negative effects on the body. By the time a tumor has grown to detectable size (as identified by physical examination or mammography), it’s been growing for around 7 years, achieving over 25 doublings of the malignant cell colony. This narrows treatment options and reduces survival rates. By contrast, thermography is safer to have done more regularly and can detect markers of cancer before it’s practically too late. If something is found, the test serves as a risk marker that complements rather than replaces mammography. A mammogram will then be necessary to confirm whether cancerous cells are present.
Thermography is an excellent screening tool. Here are the top reasons you should give it a go:
Pain-free: The test does not require the physical touch of any machine, unlike mammograms which require a high amount of compression. The pressure has been reported to be equivalent to putting a 50-pound weight on your breast. For some women, this causes great pain.
Safety: Thermography is so safe, even pregnant and nursing women can have the procedure done. It only involves taking a picture of the heat of your body.
Multiple breast types: Thermography does not identify fibrocystic tissue, breast implants, or scars as needing further investigation. This means the test is suitable for women with young, dense breasts as well as for women with breast implants.
Early warning: This method of screening yields results earlier than all other tests, providing women with an early warning system so actionable steps can be taken.
Comprehensive image: The image detects cell changes in the breast itself as well as in surrounding areas, including the armpit area. This is an area that has a low accuracy rate in mammograms but can often be affected by cancer.
Radiation-free: Radiation is used in mammograms, and excessive doses have, ironically, been linked with cancer diagnoses.
Insightful: Thermography can be used as an additional test to provide women with insights that can be interpreted by her and her health care team in order to help make more informed treatment and prevention decisions.
Thermograms can be used in conjunction with mammograms to best figure out your treatment options.
Thermographic equipment is not all the same. Before getting thermography, ensure the center does not have a “drift factor” over 0.2 degrees centigrade as this leads to poor reproducibility. The testing room should be windowless and free from outside light, and the temperature should be maintained between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit, with a proper cooling device.
Make sure all images are recorded for future comparison.
*Note: Qualified, board-certified physicians who are specifically trained in the interpretation of thermography images should back the center.
When it comes to breast cancer, remember that prevention (through nutrition and lifestyle) and proper screening are the most important factors in avoiding the disease. Empower yourself with intimate knowledge of your unique physiology, and take charge of your health today. Regular thermography screenings can provide valuable insights in a safe and pain-free form, helping you stay ahead of the cancer monster and giving you peace of mind.