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  • Nanci Miklowski, ND

Breast Thermography: An Important Adjunct Test for Detecting Breast Cancer


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The moment a woman feels a lump in her breast is likely one of the most frightening moments in her life. What could it be? What if it's cancer? Every year in the U.S., one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die from the disease. Early detection is key to surviving breast cancer.


The gold standard for early detection is a mammogram. However, aside from the discomfort of the test, there can be serious inconsistencies in the results: mammography can generate both false-negative results (not detecting cancer that is actually present) and false-positive results (detecting cancer that is not actually present). If a test is false-positive, the result could be overdiagnosis and a woman going through unnecessary treatment. If the test is false-negative, that could result in a woman not receiving treatment for an existing cancer. That's why an imaging test known as breast thermography has become a valid and important adjunct test (not a replacement test) for detecting breast cancer. A less invasive test, breast thermography is a secondary test authorized by the FDA to be used only as a risk assessment tool in addition to - but not in place of - mammography.


What is Thermography?

Breast thermography (also known as Digital Infrared Imaging-DII) is a 15-minute, pain-free, non-invasive test that shows the structure of your breast while measuring heat emanating from the surface of your body. Changes in skin temperature are the result of increased blood flow. This is important because even early-stage cancers need a blood supply to bring in nutrients to feed the cancer.

Because temperature change shows up as colors brighter than those of healthy cells, thermography can identify precancerous or cancerous cells earlier and with less ambiguous results. Studies indicate that an abnormal thermography test is 10 times more significant as a future risk indicator for breast cancer than having a family history of breast cancer.

When to Test (may vary based on personal and family medical history):

  • Age 20: Initial thermogram

  • Age 20 – 29: Thermogram every 3 years

  • Age 30 and over: Thermogram annually

Is it Right for Me?

Thermography is not suitable for women who have very large or fibrocystic breasts, are using hormone replacement treatment, have had cosmetic breast surgery, or are nursing or pregnant. Consult with your holistic physician to determine if breast thermography is a good option for you.


Resources

Heywang-Köbrunner, Sylvia H et al. "Advantages and Disadvantages of Mammography Screening." Breast care (Basel, Switzerland) (2011) vol. 6,3: 199-207. doi:10.1159/000329005. Accessed 4 Aug 2019 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3132967/

Gotzsche, P. and Olsen, O., Cochrane Review on Screening for Breast Cancer with Mammography, The Lancet,(Oct. 20, 2001), 358: 9290, pp. 1340–42. Accessed 4 Aug 2019: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001877.pub4/abstract;jsessionid=E57BF460F5DF9C64DECAC5608633A884.f02t03

Radiology.UCSF.edu. "A recent story reminds us the thermography is not a substitute for mammography." Accessed 4 Aug 2019: https://radiology.ucsf.edu/blog/recent-story-reminds-us-thermography-not-substitute-mammography

Cancer.org "Limitations of Mammography." Accessed 4 Aug 2019: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection/mammograms/limitations-of-mammograms.html


BreastThermography.com "Types of Breast Imaging." Accessed on Aug 3, 2019:http://www.breastthermography.com/mammography_thermography.htm

Northrup, C. "The Best Breast Test." Accessed Aug 4, 2019:http://www.drnorthrup.com/best-breast-test/

Gotzsche, P. and Olsen, O., "Is Screening for Breast Cancer with Mammography Justifiable?" The Lancet,(Jan. 8, 2000), 355: 9198, pp. 129–34. DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(99)06065-1

O'Connor, S. "Why Doctors are Rethinking Breast Cancer" Time online. (Oct 12, 2015 print edition). Accessed on Aug 4 2016: http://time.com/4057310/breast-cancer-overtreatment/

American College of Clinical Thermography. Accessed Aug 5, 2016:http://www.thermologyonline.org/breast/breast_thermography_what.htm

Camp, Eli. "Breast Thermography." Shared in personal correspondence. Aug 4, 2016.



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