Thermal Breast Imaging/Thermography: It’s Different than a Mammogram

thermography breast exam

Dr. Hal S. Blatman, founder and medical director of The Blatman Health and Wellness Center, has brought affordable and state-of-the-art thermal breast imaging technology to the Cincinnati area. Thermography, also known as thermal breast imaging, offers additional surety of your breast tissue health when periodically done in tandem with your annual mammograms.

And unlike getting an additional mammogram, having an additional thermal image taken of your breast tissue isn’t notoriously uncomfortable and will not expose your body to cancer causing ionizing radiation.

The scanned images taken at The Blatman Health and Wellness Center are sent to a certified reader for analysis and evaluation. Within a few weeks, your breast thermography images will be sent to the physician of your choice, along with a comprehensive report. Dr. Blatman will be available to review the report with you or your doctor should there be any questions.

Understanding Thermal Breast Imaging

Early breast cancer screening has been shown to significantly reduce breast cancer mortality. Currently, 63% of breast cancers are diagnosed at a localized stage (meaning it hasn’t yet metastasized), for which the five-year survival rate is 97%. That is why it is so important to take steps to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages.

FDA-approved since 1982, radiation-free thermal breast imaging may be able to detect certain signs of cancer earlier than a physical exam, ultrasound, mammogram, or MRI. However, the FDA has clearly stated that thermography is in no way a replacement for mammograms, and that mammograms are still the most effective scan for detecting breast cancer in its early stages.

While there is not a body of clinical evidence to directly suggest thermography has the same abilities as mammography in breast cancer screening and early detection, doctors around the country have petitioned the FDA to look into it more, citing applied medical experience. Unfortunately, experience is not a replacement for empirical clinical research.

However, this does imply that thermography might be a great, painless way to cover all your bases during your yearly breast cancer screening. This is why we recommend that, after having your thermal breast imaging done at our integrative wellness clinic, you have the images sent to your relevant physician so they can compare, contrast and analyze it against your mammogram.

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FAQs About Thermography

Here’s a brief rundown at the most common questions our patients ask us about thermography:

What is breast thermography?

Breast Thermography is a non-invasive and non-destructive way to screen for breast cancer without radiation or painful compression. It uses state-of-the-art technology that assesses temperature in the breast through infrared imaging technology. Comparative exams can create a baseline for monitoring breast health based on thermal changes.

The concept behind thermal breast imaging is that, because cancer cells grow and multiply quickly, this requires increased vascular and metabolic activity at the site of the cancer. Increased blood flow and cell activity = increase in temperature, therefore, cancerous activity should easily show up on a thermal scan.

How is thermal breast imaging different from a mammogram?

breast thermography

Mammograms are x-rays of your breast tissue taken after the tissue is compressed and held still. Regular mammograms are top and side views; 3D mammograms involve images from additional angles. A radiologist then analyzes the image for tissue abnormalities. Breast cancer usually presents as white spots.

The main complaint patients have with mammograms is that they’re uncomfortable, and some people believe the radiation is harmful. However, discomfort is a small price to pay for early cancer detection, and the level of radiation you’re exposed to for a single mammogram is nowhere near a dangerous level. The science however is that ionizing radiation causes cancer and repeated exposure is additive. If your tissue is being tested every three months, what would you choose? Or once/year after age 20?

The main advantage of thermography is that no one and nothing needs to touch you for the scan to be done. It uses an infrared camera to detect temperature differences in the tissue. Thermograms detect areas and patterns of increased temperature. This allows the reader to ‘see’ patterns of blood vessel formation and well as areas of increased warmth. At the same time, a lump without blood supply is most likely benign. Looking for changes over serial scans is key to a breast health program.

Infrared imaging of the breast allows an assessment of “breast cancer risk.” If your tissue is read as high risk, we offer a breast health program. Often times it is bacteria and spirochetes in the mouth that ‘seed’ the breast for breast cancer (men and women), and the prostate for prostate cancer. We can examine your mouth microbiome under the dark field microscope, and if needed refer you to a biologic dentist for oral risk reduction.

Infrared imaging provides an opportunity to evaluate physiology, apply a wellness program for intervention, and monitor the success of that program.

The limitation of thermography is it isn’t diagnostic; there is no way to tell why there’s a hot spot. Therefore, if you have irregularities on a breast thermogram, you’ll have to get a mammogram, ultrasound, and/or an MRI to follow up.

What is medical thermography?

Medical thermography is a whole-body analysis for assessing skin surface temperatures that can be correlated by a physician to assess for abnormal physiology. Uses for thermography are similar to that of an oral thermometer, a stethoscope, or any other medical test that assesses patient function and physiology.

There are several types of medical devices used by medical thermologists. These include contact sensors, infrared cameras, and point analysis systems. The most technologically advanced system is the infrared thermal camera, which is the chosen technology of the Professional Academy of Clinical Thermology.

Infrared cameras measure radiation in the infrared electromagnetic emission spectrum that the human body emits. The sensors on the thermal camera read varying degrees of infrared emittance and, through proper calibration, translate it into a temperature reading. The information is then plotted in a digital format in a color palette.

The most common palette is the rainbow (ROYGBIV), which shows hot measurements as red and white and cold as magenta and black. These patterns are then analyzed, and physiological assessments are made.

Who interprets medical thermography images?

Board-certified doctors interpret thermography images. We have worked with our thermography interpreter for many years, providing consistency and good comparisons for follow-up.

Do I need a referral from a doctor to get an appointment for a thermogram?

No, you don’t need a referral; you can request an appointment right here at the Blatman Health and Wellness Center!

How long does a scan take to perform?

Approximately 20-30 minutes. Please plan for a total of 45 minutes for your appointment.

How long does it take to get the results?

In most cases, we will have the results back within 7-10 business days. If there is urgency, a quicker turnaround time can be requested and usually accommodated.

Is thermography covered by insurance?

Not at this time. Keep in mind that cutting-edge technology is not covered in most fields of medicine. As a technician, the charge is a nominal fee for this technology despite the high cost of the equipment and the cost of running a temperature-controlled lab; insurance coverage should not keep you away. You can also ask us about options for funding and pre-payment plans.

Do I still need to get a mammogram?

Yes. There is no evidence to say that thermograms have equal capabilities to mammograms, or that they are effective as a standalone scan for breast cancer. Thermography is an adjunctive procedure that offers extra information and should be used in combination with other testing.

How much does breast thermography cost?

We charge based on regional factors. Pricing is inclusive of images, interpretation, full written report, and a general 30-minute overview consultation. We offer full body screenings, as well as female and male profiles, starting at $299.

What do I do if a thermogram shows higher risk tissue?

Take appropriate action, and be sure to follow up as recommended by our doctors and yours. In some cases, we are able to pick up potentially-dangerous tissue irregularities before other standard tests, which provides the ability to act swiftly and appropriately. For example, thyroid heat may be found long before a blood test will show signs of thyroid dysfunction. It is well-advised to work with a doctor familiar with thermal imaging and its life-saving ability.

Should I get a full-body scan?

About 90% of thermography patients nationwide have a full-body or profile done at the time of their exam. The information not only shows areas of dysfunction but may also show if your personal wellness plan is working.

What do I do if my doctor discredits the results?

Know that in medicine, almost nothing is universally-agreed upon. Doctors have differing opinions based on their background, experience, education, and other factors. Thermography is a relatively new technology and not necessarily accepted by all medical professionals… yet.

How often will I need a thermogram?

Your initial scan will dictate what follow-up is necessary. With no suspicious findings, most follow-up recommendations will be 12 months. Scans that warrant closer monitoring typically will be at 3-6 month intervals. This makes it convenient to schedule your thermogram near the time you have your mammogram done.

If you are using thermography to monitor your overall health, then it is a good idea to be tested quarterly until your health is stable. Annual wellness checks are also recommended.

Are there many false positives with thermal imaging?

The purpose of the thermographic evaluation is to show areas of hot and cold in the body. Thermography is greater than 99% accurate for this purpose.

What does a warm or cold spot on the thermogram mean?

The surface temperature can be elevated because of underlying infection, inflammation, blood flow, tumors, or other factors. Temperatures may be lower due to poor circulation. Temperature patterns may also provide clues to an underlying problem such as RSD or complex regional pain syndrome. We can also get information about blood flow to hands and feet to diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome or to estimate if there is enough blood flow to recover from a surgical procedure.

Is thermography just for women’s reproductive cancers?

Not at all. Medical infrared imaging provides another data point to be used for monitoring your health. Men also get breast cancer. And as men get older, it may be a good idea to image their breasts and prostates regularly as well. Consider scheduling your thermogram around the same time as your colonoscopy or other annual prevention exams.

Infrared imaging is also recommended for men with respect to breast and prostate evaluations.

The Benefits of Adding Thermal Breast Imaging to Your Yearly Screening

We added thermal breast imaging to our available services because of its non-invasive nature and its wide variety of applications; medical thermography is a great way to gain more insight into what’s going on with the tissues in your body with a simple scan. While research suggests thermography does possess the ability to detect cancers, it should only be used as a complementary screening to your annual mammogram, which is why we send the analyzed images directly with your physician when requested.

Thermal breast imaging may be an especially good idea for those who have previously had tumor activity, precancerous cells, have the BRCA gene, or are otherwise at a higher risk of breast cancer. What’s the reason not to add another screen to your yearly wellness exams?

To schedule your thermogram at our Cincinnati or NYC clinics, request an appointment.

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