Thermography – A Non-Radiation Breast Cancer Screening Option

Thermography – Too Early is Never Too Late…

Imagine (client #1) having breast cancer a year ago resulting in surgical removal of the left breast, then finding a “lump” in the remaining right breast, and having to wait a few weeks (which feels like a few years) to get a biopsy to diagnose it? Imagine (client #2) having been told your mammogram was negative but your breast ultrasound showed something, and you were left with a nagging feeling everything wasn’t as clear as it could be? Imagine (client #3) having been diagnosed with breast cancer, having treatment, and then having to “wait and see” for the next five to ten years to determine if your treatment had been successful? These are just a few of the stories being told in Colorado Springs and Denver by women who have benefited from the availability of a non-radiation option for breast screening called thermography.

Thermography involves the use of infrared (IR) thermal imaging

A non-radiation, non-contact (no squishing), accurate, and safe breast screening method. It involves over 30 years of research and development history and has been FDA approved since 1982. Ongoing advances in digital and infrared technology, as well as continued advances in computer technology, have continued to develop the technology, especially over the last 10 years.

Infrared thermography cameras detect heat that is given off by the body and displays it in picture format onto a computer monitor. Scans are then sent to doctors trained and certified to read thermal images, called thermologists, who report on the findings. IR scans are unique to each individual and remain very stable over time, which makes them effective as a screening tool for changes that may occur. An initial scan is taken to determine any possible concern which may suggest abnormal pathology, and need for further clinical evaluation. On-going thermal imaging may then be done to monitor any treatment which may be initiated. Following the initial scan, a three month follow-up scan is done to insure stability of the individual pattern. This second scan serves to establish a baseline to compare subsequent yearly screening results.

From a personal perspective, let’s look closer at actual client situations to understand how thermography is being utilized. The following clients represent a growing body of health conscious women who take primary responsibility for their own health, and who seek collaborative healthcare providers willing to be on their team. They listen, they learn, they question, and they take final responsibility for their treatment and for the outcome.

Client #1 came to Clinical Thermography of Colorado after having heard of a “new” breast screening device which may give her, and her frantic husband, information which could help them wait for her scheduled biopsy appointment. The client was taken to a temperature regulated room, which also controls for external light, She removed her clothing from the waist up behind a privacy screen, put on a gown, and she and her husband sat for 20 minutes discussing her medical history and concerns with the nurse thermographer (person trained to take thermographic images) After her body temperature adjusted to the specified room temperature required for thermal imaging, six scanned images were then taken and immediately reviewed with the client. Colorful images were shown one by one on the screen and discussed. The nurse thertherm_pic4mographer made sure the client understood that the images needed to be interpreted by a trained doctor (thermologist) who would provide a written report she could share with her existing healthcare providers.

The scanned images showed areas of color that ranged from white (the hottest area) to blue (the coldest area). The area of greatest concern on the part of the client was the area containing the lump in the right breast. This area looked completely blue in color, indicating the absence of heat. Given the fact that tumors develop their own blood supply (often for many years before a tumor is even felt), and given that this increased blood supply produces heat at the site of the tumor, and given that heat shows up as a warm color (i.e. white, red, orange) on the thermal image, the obvious blue appearance of the right breast was a welcome sight! After a blissful moment of relief came the panic thought “I don’t see the lump . . . this machine doesn’t work!” The nurse comforted the client with the knowledge that thermal imaging looks at physiology not anatomy. It detects heat coming off the body and translates it into a picture. If there is no excessive heat in an area being scanned the area will not show up on the picture. The scan was sent for interpretation and came back stating “Regarding the area of concern over the right breast, particularly the site of the location of her palpable mass at 7 o’clock , there are no significant or suspicious thermal findings.” The breast biopsy done later by her surgeon agreed with the thermogram report, and revealed a non-malignant fibroid. In addition, this client now also has a tool which can be used to monitor the mastectomy site on the left side of her chest for possible recurrence of cancer, since mammography is no longer an option for her there.

Client #2 came with a recent mammogram reading that was negative, but with an ultrasound report that “showed something?” She consulted with her surgeon who “thought it did not appear to be cancer.” She proceeded to have a thermogram done as a sort of “tie breaker” to help decide if further clinical investigation was necessary. When she took the concerning thermography report to the surgeon he “thought thermography was not reliable” and wouldn’t proceed with further investigation. She disagreed and found another surgeon who, in her words, “was open and found my thermogram scan to be of value even though he had never seen one before.” The thermogram report described an area in the upper left breast as “highly suggestive of abnormal pathology.” In addition, the area under the left breast was reported as being more hyperthermic (warmer) than the right, and even the right breast showed specific areas of possible concern. Because the previous surgeon had “ruled out” the area of primary concern in the upper right breast, the client and her new surgeon decided to do a biopsy under the left breast as an initial clinical approach. Stage 1 cancer was found under the left breast. The client immediately wanted to have both breasts removed. This seemed a bit radical for a Stage 1 cancer diagnosis, but the client was adamant. Fortunately, and unfortunately, the client was right. The pathology report following surgery showed even more serious findings than the Stage 1 cancer found under the left breast on biopsy. It diagnosed the concerning area in the upper left breast highlighted by the thermogram report, as well as the areas commented on in the right breast. The results showed that “The upper area on the left breast was Stage 3 invasive cancer, multifocal with a positive sentinel lymph node, and the tissue of the right breast showed a lot of pre-cancerous cells.” The client’s surgeon and her oncologist both stated the “the thermogram matched what they found out with the pathology report.” To this client “thermography is absolutely valid.”

Client #3 is in her 5-10 year “wait and see” period having been diagnoses with Stage 1 breast cancer and having completed her chosen medical treatment. In addition, she has significantly changed her diet and lifestyle, and has added clinically directed nutritional supplements to her prevention plan. She began to explore further prevention and monitoring options. “I read many books, talked to therm_pic6.jpgfriends, and searched the internet for information and learned about  thermography.” She informed her surgeon and oncologist that she would be having thermogram scans “for the purpose of checking my healing process and to look for any abnormalities that could be developing.” Her most recent thermogram report states, “Thermal patterns and temperature differentials have remained stable.” She has chosen to be followed with thermogram scans every 3 months for now. She states, “I am very aware of the advantages of early detection and I plan to continue to use thermography to maximize my options if another cancer develops. Thermography is not so expensive that I can afford to use it often as a tool to monitor my healing process, to reveal areas I need to be sure to check more closely with my self exams, and to watch for abnormal processes that could indicate new tumor growth that might need to be seen with a mammogram.”

Sylvia Philpy is a master's trained clinical nurse practitioner with over 25 years of experience. Her background in complementary medicine is diverse, including training in holistic nursing, mind/body medicine training with Dr. Deepak Chopra and mind/body infertility training at Harvard Medical School Mind/Body Institute. In addition, she has certificates in Healing Touch & Holistic Pregnancy Preparation and Support. In the area of "functional medicine" she has training in nutritional management of perimenopause/menopause, nutritional endocrinology, stress-induced disorders and the use of holistic medicine to treat chronic disease. Sylvia believes that integrated health care is a very personal, co-creative process requiring compassion, connection and caring in order to fulfill goals of wellness and optimal health for the client, as well as the practitioner

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