Let’s start with detection or diagnostics. Well, sad to report not much has changed. Mammography is still on the front line even with advanced imaging such as breast MRIs; which are much more comfortable. They leave the ‘squish’ out of it. Unfortunately, you cannot normally get coverage for a breast MRI until you have had an abnormal mammography. One important point before we move forward, none of these images, even the option we will talk about today are perfect. In fact, each one of these may be recommended at some time due to their sensitivity/accuracy. What we want to continue to stress in the world of cancer is prevention. Sure, early detection is great, but the true goal should be never allowing the mass to grow at all. That is where some of the advancements in blood testing as well as body imaging come in. If we can agree that traditional images such as mammography can be an important part of a diagnostic work up but also understand that they are not part of a preventative model, then we can move forward.
I would like to introduce the ideas behind thermography and breast health. Mammography uses X-ray technology to penetrate tissue and produce an image. This requires some radiation to be applied to the patient. Due to this technology most of the image that is produced relies on density of tissues, essentially examining the breast tissue for micro-calcifications. Dr. David Lee (director of the Division of Mammography Quality Standard for the FDA) states, “Evidence shows that mammograms are effective at detecting breast cancer in its early and most treatable stages.” (https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm257499.htm).
Sounds like a good statement and it is—being able to identify these lesions early on is important, but what about preventing them or detecting them before they are dense enough to be picked up on mammography? What about the over diagnosis and treatment that we discussed in our last article https://gatewaynaturalmedicine.com/stop-the-mammography-madness-part-1/?
Enter thermography and it’s a whole different ball game! With thermography we are looking at the energy that YOU radiate. No external radiation is transferred to you. Also, we are not looking for densities but rather heat signatures and vessel patterns in tissue. When cells are more metabolically active they emit heat which is picked up by the specialized thermography camera. One of the huge benefits of thermography is that anyone, hell, anything can be imaged without harm or damage; children, dogs, a car engine, anything. In fact, this technology is used by home inspectors and the military all the time. With thermography, we are not limited to just one area of the body—we can look for abnormal heat signatures and patterns anywhere in or on your body. Even skin lesions such as basal cell carcinoma and seborrheic keratosis may produce hot spots that can be picked up during your exam. 1,2 We are even collecting data on patient cases with melanoma and seeing some promising results. 3
Thermography was invented sometime in the 1800’s with the first documented image dated 1929. In the early 1980s specific standards were put in place to create repeatable and reliable policies and protocols. Since that time the FDA warns that thermography should not be used in place of mammography and they are absolutely correct! Two totally different technologies with two completely different sets of outcome data. Mammography does not take the place of thermography either, nor does an MRI or ultrasound so this statement by the FDA should not concern you unless the imaging center or doctor you’re working with is ill informed. There are special protocols that are developed if something abnormal is detected on a thermographic image; likewise, with a mammogram. The FDA has given clearance for thermal images as “adjunctive”, if you’re interested in what the FDA thinks.
Thermography does not “see” inside the body it detects heat signatures about 5mm deep. What we are looking for is symmetry from side to side and vascular patterns. Cancer cells require additional nutrients and through a series of chemical messengers trigger new vascular growth or increased flow which can be highlighted with thermography.
OK, so you have decided that thermography is something you’re interested in—when, where and how do you incorporate it into your health regimen? The first step is getting together with a doctor who understands ALL the options out there and can first quantify your risk stratification or how likely you are to develop breast cancer. There are still a lot of unknowns in the world of cancer development, but we do have a good hold on some risk factors such as the age when your menstrual cycle started, how many kids you have birthed, family history of cancer, etc. Make sure your doctor doesn’t limit your options through their ignorance. I recommend thermography at least annually. It’s not invasive nor is there any contact or radiation, so why not?! Now we normally combine this with some of the more advance blood markers for cancer as well to get a nice rounded look at what potentially is going on, hopefully years in advance of cancer. If the thermography and blood work is clean, depending on your lifestyle and risk, your doctor may not recommend any further testing. If something is detected or peaks the curiosity of the physician, then an additional test for confirmation (we always want to confirm regardless of testing method) would be recommended ranging from breast ultrasound to biopsy. Thermography saved my wife’s life and was able to detect issues that traditional imaging could not. She suffered from breast implant illness yet had no breast pain nor deformities. As part of her annual work-up we added a thermography of her breast tissue and her health issues were literally highlight right there in front of us. I bring up this point because many are trying to defend thermography against the power of mammography, and I don’t think that is a perfect comparison. If I may use the old adage, it’s like comparing apples and oranges—both fruit, but totally different.
There is a time and place for all things medicine; natural, pharmaceutical, physical therapy and surgery. I think we can all appreciate that. What there is also a time and place for is re-evaluating the current standards and asking ourselves if this is the absolute best option for our patients. Once again when we are discussing cancer we are talking about prevention—right now we suck at predicting many of these cancers. Maybe it’s because our current medical standards and testing strategies are old, outdated and need a refresh. Remember thermography is not an alternative to mammograms and mammographs are not alternatives to thermography. Thermography is taking a different vantage point in our collective fight for prevention.
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