Thermography produces an image which shows hot spots on the surface of the skin.
• What Is Thermography?
A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. A cancerous mass shows up in white.
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|What Is Thermography?
Also called thermal imaging, this is the use of a special infrared camera to produce thermograms (images) to map patterns of blood flow and heat on or near the skin's surface. It is most commonly advertised for breast cancer screening, and in such an instance may be called breast thermography or digital infrared thermal imaging. One main advantage of thermography is that it is completely non invasive and unlike mammography involves no radiation. The idea behind thermography is that cancer cells multiply very fast and metabolism and blood flow to a tumor is higher than that found in normal healthy tissue. As blood flow increases, 'hot spots' are created which can be detected by thermography. Although a hot spot may indicate cancer, it can also indicate other nonmalignant breast conditions which cause increased blood flow. For this reason, thermal imaging often yields false-positives.
In June 2011 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert to the general public and health care providers stating that thermography is not a substitute for mammography when it comes to breast cancer screening and should not be used as a standalone test. They stated they were not aware of any valid scientific study which showed that thermographic devices are effective screening tools for any health condition, including the detection of female cancers. The American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Society for Breast Imaging and American College of Radiology concur with this view. The alert issued by the FDA was in response to certain facilities, mobile units and websites that were promoting thermography as a standalone screening tool for breast cancer diagnosis. They were concerned by the misleading claims that thermography can detect pre-cancer activities which a mammography cannot spot, or that squeezing of the breasts during a mammography will push cancer cells to other parts of the body. There is no scientific evidence to support either of these claims.
According to the FDA, thermography may be use to supplement other standard tests. It may be helpful in identifying cancers which are close to the skin. However it will not find cancers that are deeper in the breasts nor can it detect small tumors. New versions of the technology are being developed, so accuracy of the test may improve in the future. In the meantime, some clinics are also claiming that the procedure can help detect other health conditions besides cancer. Again there is no scientific data to support this. They claim it can help detect:Arthritis: Some may state thermal imaging can differentiate between arthritis types such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Early treatment is important with this disease, so always consult a qualified medical doctor for an arthritis diagnosis.
Autoimmune Diseases: These include chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Again a medical doctor is best equipped to make an actual diagnosis of fibromyalgia.
Digestive Disorders: Diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), headaches, pulled muscles, stroke in women, herniated discs and bursitis.
The procedure takes about 40 minutes in total. On arrival the patient is brought to an exam room which is temperature controlled. You will be asked to remove clothes from the waist up and to sit in the room for 15 minutes until your body has cooled down. You will be instructed not to touch the upper body area, especially the breast during this time. You may be asked to complete some paperwork, including a health survey while you wait. After acclimating the patient is positioned in front of the imaging camera and the technician takes images of the breasts, upper chest and under the arms. This takes about 5 minutes. The images are studied by a clinical thermologist who issues a written report within 2 to 3 weeks. The report will recommend what other tests or follow up thermogram scanning you may require.
On average a test costs about $200. Some insurance companies may cover the cost, Medicaid does not.
Always discuss screening guidelines with a health care provider. A breast self-examination should be a regular part of every woman's routine. Women over the age of 40 should also have an annual mammogram test, particularly those at high risk for breast cancer. Contact the National Cancer Institute (1-800-4-CANCER) or the American College of Radiology (1-800-227-5463) to find a certified mammography provider in your area.
Some women may be more worried about their chances of developing breast cancer, perhaps because a near relative has developed the disease or they have dense breast tissue (see breast cancer risk factors). In such instances it is recommended to have an annual digital mammogram. Digital tests are more sensitive than film mammograms which were standard in the past. If a close mother or sister has developed the disease you may consider a breast MRI scan which is even more detailed and sensitive. It is also worth talking to a genetic counselor who will help you determine if genetic testing for breast cancer is appropriate. In addition it is important to consider breast cancer prevention strategies such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight and consuming alcohol moderately. Using thermography as an alternative is not recommended. Studies show that screenings by mammography have reduced the incidence of breast cancer by 40 percent. There are no such randomized trials for thermal imaging. However, if you choose to test with thermography in addition to the recommended procedures, there is no harm in doing so.
Australia's Breast Screen Program
The Australian Breast Screen Program does not recommend thermography for the early detection of cancer. They state that the technique has been available in one form or other for the past 35 years – that is both common approaches: contact thermography and digital thermography (also called telethermography). Research from 1983 shows that a tumor has to be quite large, at least several centimeters wide, before it can be detected by thermal imaging. Mammograms by comparison can detect tumors at a much smaller size, which is why they are the recommended screening process. In fact studies show that less than half of breast cancers detected by mammography would have been picked up by thermography (abnormal thermogram).
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