Breast thermography is a non-invasive scan that provides an image of the physiology of breast tissue and vascularity via temperature variations. Used as an adjunctive tool for breast cancer risk assessment, it is a no-contact, radiation-free scan that can be used for women under 40, nursing mothers, women with fibrocystic or large breasts, and women who have had implants or surgical reduction.
Thermal breast imaging is not meant to replace mammography or in-depth diagnostic tests that measure anatomical abnormalities in breast tissue. While breast cancer can only be diagnosed by a tissue biopsy, thermography can indicate possible signs of tissue abnormalities that may signal the need for additional studies.
White lines are blood vessels, showing the vascular pattern within the breast.
How Does Breast Thermography Work?
By scanning the breast area with a highly-sensitive camera, thermal technology creates a visual “heat map” of the breast that can detect blood vessel formation and areas of abnormal temperatures, which may indicate inflammation and/or abnormal tissue function.
Early breast cancer growth is greatly dependent on increasing the blood supply to tumors by creating new blood vessels. This is called angiogenesis, and it is promoted by a “tumor angiogenesis factor” that is secreted by the cancer cells. Thermography is the only breast cancer screening tool that is able to detect these miniscule changes early, because increased blood flow changes the temperature pattern of the breast. Early diagnosis is to discover and treat the issue before the new blood vessels offer cancerous cells a way out of the breast and throughout your body via your bloodstream. This is called metastasis.
Breast thermography measures differences in infrared heat emission and blood vessel formation from normal breast tissue, benign breast abnormalities (such as fibrocystic disease, cysts, and benign tumors) and breast cancers. As a tool for current breast cancer patients or people who’d like to monitor the state of cysts that have been confirmed as benign via biopsy, regular thermograms can offer peace of mind between mammograms or other studies. While a thermogram cannot tell you why there is heat emission or what it means, it can inform you and your doctor on whether additional tests are necessary to diagnose or rule out breast cancer.
Breast thermography is also important as a test that shows your physiology. If the test demonstrates a high level of risk, there is a breast health program that can help reduce this risk and you can watch your thermogram change to a less risky pattern.
The positives about thermal breast imaging are that it does not use radiation and does not require breast compression or contact. Therefore, a suspicious area can be monitored without squeezing a possible tumor. It is a simple, quick scan, and it may prove useful for other purposes, too, like detecting tissue inflammation at the site of pain or injury somewhere in the body.
(Color images demonstrate temperature pattern.)
Advantages of Thermal Breast Imaging (Thermography)
For those who want to start breast cancer screening much earlier in life, thermography offers an introduction to the importance of paying attention to the vascular distribution, tissue density and feel of your breasts, which is a good value to instill, especially if you have a history of breast cancer in the family. As, unless in high-risk cases, most doctors don’t recommend mammograms until 40. Other advantages to adding thermography to your yearly clinical breast cancer screenings are:
- Safe and pain free.
- No squeezing of breast tissue.
- Fibrocystic disease does not make the test less effective.
- Breasts with implants can be effectively tested.
- Effective for any size breast.
- Provides opportunity for early intervention if the test is not completely normal.
- Can be done for men also
In clinical settings, thermograms have indicated usefulness for monitoring existing tumors and the growth/shrinkage of both benign and malignant tumors. Thermography offers another point of view to the regular ultrasounds and MRIs that come with breast cancer treatment.
Recommended Guidelines for Thermal Breast Imaging
Many of our patients have found thermograms a useful supplementary tool for monitoring their breast health. It is vital to understand that, while there are no risks to having thermograms done often, a thermogram is not a replacement for mammograms. Since the FDA’s 2019 warning against relying on thermography for breast cancer detection, the American Academy of Thermology’s position statement is that thermograms should never be used as a standalone assessment, as they are not diagnostic.
Mammograms are the only test that has been clinically proven to accurately and effectively detect the very earliest signs of vascular irregularity and microcalcifications that can indicate breast cancer. That’s why we recommend to our patients who are concerned with their risk of breast cancer that they first visit their primary physician and have clinical screening performed before considering thermography.
Because mammograms are the standard in early breast cancer detection, insurance will not cover thermography. But we make the cost manageable for our patients. The affordable thermal breast imaging fee covers a thorough thermal breast imaging scan, analysis and evaluation by a qualified reader, and a comprehensive written report sent to the physician of your choice.
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women. It accounts for 30% of all new cancer cases in women each year, over 40,000 deaths each year, and will affect 13% of women sometime in their life. Breast cancers are some of the most important to detect as early as possible, so there’s nothing wrong with adding a test or two to your mammograms – better safe than sorry.