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What is Breast Thermography
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What is breast thermography?

Breast Thermography, or Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging (DITI), is a noninvasive screening procedure that detects and records infrared heat emissions from the breast. The visual image, or thermogram, maps variations in skin temperature which may indicate underlying vascular, muscular and neural disease. DITI is especially useful for detecting early lesions before they otherwise become clinically evident. These changes could accompany cancer, fibrocystic breast disease, local injury, infections or vascular disease. No radiation is used by thermography, and there is no discomfort during the examination.

What are some advantages to thermographic imaging?

Thermography is the earliest method of breast pathology detection known. It can identify changes in local physiology and blood flow before other clinical examinations or screening tests are able to detect a problem. Unlike mammography, accuracy of the test is not compromised by the denser breast tissue in women under 50 years old. Compared with X-Rays, CT scans, ultrasound and MRIs, DITI is unique in its ability to show physiological and metabolic changes. DITI is also very cost effective when compared to these other screening and diagnostic tools.

How does breast thermography compare with mammography?

Both are screening tests that do not specifically diagnose breast cancer, but screen for changes in local tissues due to various causes. Both are superior to clinical or self-examination for detecting early pathological changes. Mammography detects anatomical changes and is more precise than thermography in identifying the exact location of a lesion, while thermography detects physiological changes that occur much earlier than anatomical changes.

Thermography has been shown to detect the precancerous state of breast tissue up to 10 years before breast cancer is identified by other methods, and a positive thermographic image represents the highest known risk factor for the future development of breast cancer, 10 times more significant than any family history of the disease. Compared with mammography, 7 out of 10 times infrared imaging is the first alarm that something is happening.

Can breast thermography diagnose breast cancer?

No. Like mammography, it is a screening test. More specific diagnostic tests such as ultrasound or biopsy are needed to diagnose and stage breast cancer.

Does breast thermography replace mammography?

No. Both are useful screening tools with relative strengths and weaknesses. Thermography is most useful in women who are not good candidates for mammography or who prefer to avoid unnecessary radiation exposure. Mammography can be a useful follow-up screening tool when thermography reveals a suspicious finding. When used as part of a multi-modal approach (clinical examination + thermography + mammography), 95% of early stage breast cancers could be detected.

Can thermography be used on women who have had a mastectomy or breast augmentation?

Yes. Thermal imaging is useful in detecting local variations in temperature in women who have had partial or radical mastectomy as part of follow-up screening. Also, since no local pressure is applied to the breast, there is no harm to breast implants.

How much does breast thermography cost?

Rates vary with each facility. Results are later reviewed by MD Radiologists trained in the use and interpretation of thermographic images, and a report of findings is sent about a week later. A follow-up visit with a health care provider familiar with thermography is recommended to review your results.

How often should breast thermography be done?

An initial thermogram with a follow-up in 3 to 6 months establishes a baseline. Thereafter, annual thermograms are generally recommended.

Can thermography be used for other conditions?

Yes, there are a number of conditions where thermography has proven to be a useful diagnostic procedure as well as a way to measure treatment progress. These conditions include local pain conditions such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Tendinitis and teno-synovitis
  • Neurological conditions
  • Atherosclerotic heart disease
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Vasculitis
  • Raynaud's disease

We can also do whole-body thermography to screen for circulatory and other physiological changes.

Finally, acupuncturists can use thermography to detect slight temperature variations which reflect disturbances in the flow of qi and blood which can result in pain and dysfunction. Concrete evidence that acupuncture therapy actually restores blood flow and normalizes disrupted temperature patterns has been proven by thermographic studies.

By Carl Hangee-Bauer
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