Here is a disturbing statistic: one in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in her life, a risk which increases with age. It is perhaps this reason that has made the debate surrounding the best type of breast cancer screening tests, particularly among women over 30, so powerful in recent years.
The most well-known type of breast cancer screening test is the mammogram. The medical community certainly supports mammography as a tool for the early detection of breast cancer, but there’s some suggestion that the nature of mammography actually increases the risk of breast cancer and may not be the most effective life-saving tool. Though doctors generally recommended mammograms, patients ultimately decide if mammography is right for them, making it important to understand the breast cancer screening options that are available and their impact on patient health.
A mammogram is a diagnostic test that uses compression and low-dose X-rays to check the breast tissues and glands for abnormality. Mammograms are effective in detecting signs of breast disease and cancer, although they can’t be used to diagnose the disease: additional tests, such as fine needle aspiration or a biopsy, are needed to confirm any suspicions brought up by the mammogram and diagnose a patient with breast cancer.
Although mammography is generally accurate, patients dislike this method of breast cancer screening for its discomfort and use of radiation. A typical mammogram exposes a patient to 0.7 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation. That’s equivalent to approximately 7 weeks’ worth of natural background radiation, the radiation humans are exposed to naturally in the environment. Though this isn’t a huge amount of radiation, it does add up over time, especially since the National Cancer Institute now recommends a mammogram every 1 to 2 years for women over 40. The use of radiation in mammography may be a cause for a concern simply because that radiation exposure can add up over time.
Approved for use by the FDA in 1982, thermography is another diagnostic tool in which infrared rays are used to convert blood flow and body heat to images. The process uses a thermal camera to measure subtle changes or differences in the temperature of infrared heat that’s emitted by infections, cysts, inflammation, or tumors in the breast tissue. Because thermography uses thermographic images to record physiological, or thermal, changes in the breast tissue, it is considered non-invasive and, thus, lower risk than other forms of breast cancer screenings like mammography.
However, the question remains whether thermography can stand alone as a tool to detect breast cancer or should be used to complement mammography tests. While doctors typically use thermography in conjunction with mammography, some patients choose to use the non-invasive test only. This isn’t necessarily a decision that doctors would support, but it might not be as negative as it seems, since the effectiveness of mammography as an early detection tool has been questioned in recent years.
The general consensus is that mammography is an effective and accurate early breast cancer detection tool, yet the way in which cancer cells develop calls this claim into question. After a cancerous tumor has been growing for about two years, it needs to create its own blood supply in order to sustain further growth, a process called angiogenesis. Because thermography detects changes in blood flow and heat in the breast tissue, this technology can detect angiogenesis, thereby warning of breast cancer early on in its development. Mammography, on the other hand, can’t detect this kind of change; only when a tumor is large enough and dense enough can a mammogram detect it, and at that point, the tumor may have been growing for more than eight years.
Thermography can be used as a way to detect abnormal cell activity for proactive preventive care. The International Academy of Clinical Thermography (IACT) has found that adding thermography to breast cancer screenings can increase patients’ survival rates up to 61 percent (source).
Each patient has a different lifestyle and family history that, combined with age and other factors like geographic region, contribute to her risk for breast and other types of cancer. Why increase that risk when the purpose of screening tests is to detect abnormal cell activity that could be linked to cancer? Thermography should be the first choice in breast cancer screening, avoiding radiation and the possible harmful effects of mammography on the body. And, because thermography can detect abnormal growths so much earlier than mammography, it’s the best choice for preventive care and proactive treatment of breast cancer.
Click here and you will find some interesting case studies using breast thermography. They illustrate the role that breast thermography plays as an addition to a women’s regular breast health care. Most insurance companies will not cover thermography, but it is definitely worth the investment and peace of mind. Typical costs usually run $175-$3250 depending on where you live, according to BreastHealthProject.com. Want to find a center near you? Visit The International Academy of Clinical Thermology for thermography centers by state or Google a center near you.