10 Reasons to Consider Breast Thermography
John D. Bartone, MD
1Thermography does not involve exposure to ionizing radiation. Thermographic imaging looks at heat (or infrared) patterns on the skin that may be indicative of internal dysfunction. It is safe for women of all ages.
2Thermography is painless and noninvasive. There is no direct patient contact with the equipment and no painful breast compression.
3Thermographic results are independent of breast density. The more white tissue on a mammogram, the denser the breast is said to be. The denser a woman’s breasts, the less effective a mammogram is going to be at detecting abnormalities. The sensitivity of mammography varies greatly with breast density, from 90 percent in women with no dense breast tissue to less than 50 percent in women with dense breasts (and 50 percent of all women have dense breasts). But women with dense breasts also have a four-to-six- fold increased risk of developing breast cancer. For precisely the group of women we want to screen the most carefully, mammography is doing the poorest job. The sensitivity of thermography is 75 to 80 percent and is independent of breast density.
4Thermography is safe with breast implants. The compression involved in a mammogram may increase the risk of implant rupture. The FDA warns that all implants will eventually break. Most women who have implants for more than ten years will have at least one broken implant. About half of women who get implants get them in their 20s or early 30s. By the time they start getting regular mammograms in their 40s, the implants are either already broken or they are vulnerable. Thermography is safe with implants because there is no breast compression.
5Implants do not compromise thermographic results. Implants obscure breast tissue on a mammogram. Studies have confirmed that the presence of implants decreases the sensitivity of mammography and results in delayed diagnosis of breast cancer. Because implants obscure breast tissue, specialized mammographic views have been developed that help to minimize this. Women with implants who undergo screening mammography must have a total of eight standard views rather than four, exposing them to twice the radiation of women without implants!
Thermography looks at heat patterns on the surface of the skin. While breast augmentation changes the size and contour of the breasts, the thermal patterns on the surface of the skin remain largely unchanged. Therefore, implants do not compromise thermographic results.
6Thermography is FDA approved. Breast thermography has undergone extensive research including hundreds of studies with over 300,000 women included as study participants. In 1982 the FDA approved thermography as an adjunctive diagnostic screening procedure for the detection of breast cancer.
7Thermography is quick and easy. A typical exam takes 20 to 30 minutes. The patient changes into a lightweight gown and acclimates to the ambient temperature of a carefully climate controlled room for about 10 to 15 minutes. The actual imaging takes about five minutes and is literally as easy as having your picture taken. Two exams approximately three months apart are required to establish a baseline before a woman can move on to annual screening. Interpreters not only compare one breast to the other but also look for changes within each breast over time.
8Thermography monitors physiology. Abnormalities of physiology almost always precede abnormalities of anatomy. Mammography is an anatomic study; it looks for abnormalities of structure. Thermography monitors physiology; it tells us how breast tissue is functioning. As a physiological test, thermography has the potential of finding evidence of a developing malignancy much earlier than a mammogram.
9Thermography is an important risk assessment tool. A study published in 1980 followed 1,245 asymptomatic women for 12 years. These women had normal mammograms, normal ultrasounds, but abnormal thermograms. Within five years, 38 percent of the women had developed breast cancer.
Thermography does something that no other form of breast imaging does: it assesses risk. Studies have shown that an abnormal thermogram is three to 10 times more significant as a risk factor for future development of breast cancer than a first order family history (mother, sister or daughter). In fact, a persistently abnormal breast thermogram represents the highest known risk factor for the future development of breast cancer.
10Thermography affords a proactive approach to breast health. Mammography, breast ultrasound and thermography all seem to find different cancers, so a multimodal approach to breast imaging increases the chances that a cancer, if present, will be found. Although not approved as a standalone procedure, if a woman is not doing anything else, she should at least be having annual thermograms. Some women combine yearly ultrasound and thermography, some do a mammogram one year and a thermogram the next. Many women with implants adopt the latter approach which allows them to reduce their radiation exposure to that of women without implants.
If a woman is identified by thermography to be at risk for developing breast cancer, she can be monitored more frequently with conventional modalities in the hopes that when a cancer does finally become visible on mammography or ultrasound, it will be the smallest possible size.
Thermographic abnormalities do not always represent an implacable road to breast cancer. They are sometimes reversible. If a woman learns through thermography that she is at increased risk, then thermography empowers her to review her modifiable risks (i.e. hormone replacement therapy, exercise levels, alcohol intake, stress, obesity) and take appropriate action.
There are several breast imaging tools out there. None are perfect. Every woman should at least be aware that thermography exists, that it has existed for some time, and understand what it does best. A woman cannot make an informed decision about how to best use these tools without fully assessing her risk, and she has not fully assessed her risk without a breast thermogram.
Dr. John D. Bartone is certified by the American Board of Radiology in Diagnostic Radiology. He has sub-specialty expertise in women’s imaging. He is also the manager of Medical Operations and an interpreting thermologist at Greenpoint Thermography.
Greenpoint provides mobile thermographic imaging services throughout Tampa Bay as well as at their St. Petersburg office. For more information, call 727-576-0100, email Info@GreenpointThermography.com or visit GreenpointThermography.com and/or their Facebook page. See ad page below.
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