Early detection of breast cancer is crucial for women who have it and hope to survive it. If breast cancer is detected early, medical practitioners agree that the disease has an up to ninety five percent survival rate. That is why it has been recommended that women above the age thirty five get a mammogram every year.
A mammogram, however, is not the only technique for detecting breast cancers early and according to some medical researchers, not even the best. Breast thermography, which uses ultrasensitive infrared cameras and sophisticated computers to detect breast cancers, is beginning to achieve wider acceptance. The modern version of the technique has been around for about three decades, and with the advance of technology and development of diagnostic protocols is becoming a common procedure in addition to a mammogram.
Breast thermography was approved as a diagnostic technique by the FDA in 1982. Subsequent studies have shown that breast thermography has a sensitivity of about ninety percent. A woman’s long term survival rate from having a breast thermography in addition to a mammogram can be increased by up to 61 percent. Breast thermography has the ability to detect the first signs that a cancer may be forming up to 10 years before any other procedure can detect it. When breast thermography is used as part of a multimodal approach (clinical examination plus mammography plus breast thermography) ninety five percent of early stage cancers will be detected.
Unlike a mammogram, which attempts to detect breast cancers by mapping the thickness of tissue in the breast, a breast thermography detects breast cancer by mapping out the increase in temperature and blood flow in and around tumors. Unlike a mammogram, a breast cancer thermography does not use radiation or injection of chemicals, and can be administered in relative comfort for the patient (i.e. no pressing of the breast.)
Breast thermography depends on the principle that metabolic activity and blood flow is always elevated in precancerous tissue and around a developing breast cancer. Breast cancer tumors cause a higher than normal need for nutrients, which increases blood flow and temperature as compared to surrounding, normal breast tissue.
Breast thermography is considered far more sensitive a means of detecting breast cancer and even precancerous tissues than mammography. Difficulties in reading mammograms can occur in women who are on hormone replacement, nursing or have fibrocystic, large, dense, or enhanced breasts. These types of breast differences do not cause difficulties in reading digital infrared scans.
According to the Association for the Advancement of Diagnostic Thermal Imaging, a woman should get a baseline breast thermography at age twenty. Between age twenty and thirty, she should get a breast thermography every three years. Above the age of thirty, she should get a breast thermography on a yearly basis. Additional breast thermographies may be performed more frequently for higher risk women or based on suspicions from prior thermographic examination at the doctor’s discretion.
The first recorded use of thermobiological diagnostics can be found in the writings of Hippocrates around 480 B.C. A mud slurry spread over the patient was observed for areas that would dry first and was thought to indicate underlying organ pathology. Modern thermographic technology was developed by the military for night vision tools. The first medical use of thermography was performed in 1957.
While many insurance companies at this moment do not cover breast thermography, they are relatively cheap, costing between one hundred and two hundred dollars. Breast thermography is not recommended as a substitute for a mammogram or other diagnostic procedures, but as an addition to those techniques.