Breast health is a crucial concern for women around the world, with early detection of abnormalities being key to successful treatment. Traditional breast mammography has long been the gold standard for breast cancer screening. However, treatment implies a reactive approach, which leaves a big elephant in the room: What about prevention? Breast Thermography is not an alternative to mammography. Rather, it is a whole different approach to breast health.
Let’s dive into the main differences between mammography and breast thermography.
Concerns with Breast Mammography
Mammography involves exposing the breast to low-dose X-rays to capture detailed images of the tissue. While it can be a reliable method of preliminary diagnosis, it has its drawbacks. Mammography imaging requires breast compression in order to reduce the thickness of the breast tissue, however there is no industry standard as to how much compression is needed. Studies have shown that the discomfort associated with breast compression leads to lower compliance with “regular screening” recommendations. Another major concern with mammography is ionizing radiation exposure. False positives and negatives are also common, leading to unnecessary biopsies, over-diagnosis/over-treatment, and undetected cases. According to the American Cancer Society, screening mammograms miss about 1 in 8 breast cancers.
The Case for Breast Thermography
Non-invasive and Painless:
The discomfort of breast compression that is necessary in mammography leads many women to put off scheduling their initial and follow up screenings. If a woman has had a particularly painful mammogram – such as is often the case with some women who have smaller breast, past breast trauma, or particularly sensitive breast tissue – the “recommended” follow up or annual scans become even less appealing. Bottom line here is that compliance with “regular screening” is much lower when the experience is painful.
Unlike mammography, breast thermography is non-invasive and painless. It involves capturing the natural infrared heat that is emitted from the body and capturing thermal images that display temperature and vascular variations in chest area. There is absolutely no compressing or touching of the breast tissue during the appointment. This makes it comfortable and stress-free.
No Radiation Exposure:
While the amount of radiation from each mammogram is purportedly low, it can still add up over time, leading to an increase in the possibility of developing cancer later in life. The common argument to this is that we are all exposed to ionizing radiation everyday from the natural environment. However, this is hardly a strong argument for unnecessarily exposing yourself to additional radiation when there is an option that reduces the need for exposure. The absence of ionizing radiation in thermography eliminates this risk and also makes it a good option for monitoring progress of treatment or lifestyle intervention more frequently without concern.
Early Detection Potential:
Thermography can detect physiological changes in breast tissue, such as increased blood flow and temperature variations. These changes can be early indicators of abnormal tissue growth, often occurring years before a tumor is visible on a mammogram (in some studies – up to 8-10 years earlier!). While Breast Thermography is not used as a “diagnostic” tool, it is used to determine what the next best step is for the patient. Because the goal of a thermogram goes beyond “cancer” or “no cancer”, it actually gives a woman more useful information to address their breast health.
Thermography is also looking at the health of the entire chest and breast area, rather than just the breast tissue. This means looking at inflammation, lymphatic stagnation and overall toxin build up that can be the cause of excessive breast soreness during menstruation or lead to other risks down the road.
Suitable for Dense Breasts:
The challenge with mammography is that it is less sensitive in women with dense breasts because dense tissue and some abnormal breast changes, such as calcifications and tumors, both appear as white areas in the mammogram.
Breast density can make it challenging to detect abnormalities with mammography. Thermography is not affected by breast density, making it a reliable option for women with dense breast tissue.
Silicon implants also obscure glandular tissue, meaning women with breast implants may ultimately be sent for additional screening anyway. Thermography imaging of breast implants gives us additional information about potential inflammation being caused by the implants and leading to breast implant illness.
Prevention and Monitoring:
Thermography can be used as a tool for early detection of breast tissue abnormalities but also for monitoring breast health over time. It provides an opportunity for proactive prevention by identifying changes in breast health before they become problematic. With an initial image, we are getting a baseline for the overall health of the chest/breast tissue. With follow up imaging, we are monitoring physiological biomarkers that help us make specific recommendations for diet, lifestyle, supplementation, therapeutic treatments and diagnostics (when necessary).
The power of thermography also comes in its utility for monitoring the effectiveness of lifestyle changes or treatments, as well as cancer-specific therapies. For instance, with mastectomies, we are able to monitor how the body is healing from the procedure, as well as if any abnormalities begin to come back. We can also assess how the body may be adapting it’s detoxing abilities in the case of lymph node removal and trauma to lymphatic drainage areas.
It is important to address the criticisms of breast thermography:
Lack of Widespread Acceptance:
Thermography is not yet as widely accepted as mammography, largely due to a lack of awareness and funding. More research and education on thermography’s benefits would greatly increase its use in a more proactive approach to breast health screenings.
Not Covered by Insurance:
This is a common discussion we have with patients about any of our services at Gateway. We can provide the CPT codes for Thermography but we cannot guarantee that your insurance will reimburse you for it. This is mostly because it is considered a “preventative” service – and we all know how insurance feels about prevention…Check out this article on why we don’t work directly with insurance companies.
While mammography has been the go-to breast cancer screening method for decades, it is not without limitations. There is a time and a place for this kind of procedure but it is not the best method for preventing breast cancer. Breast thermography offers a compelling option that is non-invasive, radiation-free, and capable of detecting earlier physiological changes. As awareness grows thermography may become an indispensable component of breast health screening protocols.
Call the office to schedule your Breast Thermogram (970) 532-2755.
Still have questions? Check out our information page on Thermography or call to set up a 15 minute consultation with our Certified Thermography Technician.