What is Breast Thermography?
Modern Breast Thermography testing is a screening procedure that uses infrared technology (heat sensing) to screen for cancer and fibrocystic breast disease, and breast health. Infrared technology is used in most aspects of modern science including weather, space programs, military, espionage, and other applications. In breast thermography we are looking for heat patterns in the breast that may indicate pathology. Tumor growth is a physiological process that creates increased vascular patterns that can be detected on a modern infrared camera. Thermography can establish overall breast health and is an excellent test for assessing fibrocystic breasts and response to treatment. Combining imaging resources is recommended.
Breast Thermography was introduced in Quebec Canada in 1956 by Dr Robert Lawson who published the first medical paper on breast thermography on 26 women with breast cancer. His research showed that women with breast cancer had over a 2 degrees delta T when comparing the pathological breast with the opposite side. In the 1960’s infrared cameras were introduced and the first Barnes Thermograph was patented. Later liquid crystal bras and plates were used as a more affordable method of screening.
In 1972, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare declared that Breast Thermography was ‘Beyond Experimental.’ Over 4000 articles were published on thermography and over 800 focused on breast thermography. All major medical institutions implemented the technology in the USA. Other countries adopted the use as well.
How Does Thermography Work?
Breast Thermography locates physiologically active tissue that may be hot due to angioneogenesis, the development of new blood vessels that feed tumors; or inflammation associated with the tumor process. Cancer metabolism usually produces more heat compared to normal adjacent tissue and can be monitored for baseline comparison. Breast thermography proportionally detects the rise in skin temperature and the possible growth of cancer cells.
What is Angioneogenesis?
Angioneogenesis is the formation of new blood vessel that supply nutrients to a tumor and make it a living part of the body. This asymmetric increase in blood flow creates an increase in temperature that can be picked up by medical thermal cameras. Many times this blood supply increases over time as a tumor grows.
What Else Can Breast Thermography Detect Breast Cancer?
Breast thermography can also pick up inflammation associated with developing tumors and inflammatory forms of breast cancer. Some authorities has postulated that nitric oxide is emitted from the developing cancer and can be picked up as a GLOW on thermal imaging. It is also possible to see other abnormal vascular and lymphatic patterns in inverse grayscale imaging.
Breast Thermography Process
This non-invasive physical test known as Thermography lasts for around 15 minutes. Unlike like mammography exams, it doesn’t lay any sort of stress on the breast. It uses digital infrared imaging to discover any symmetrical changes in the breast. Women with implants or those with a mastectomy fall outside of the “routine” analysis, but are able to be tested with some adaptations in evaluation procedures.
Testing is performed in the physician’s or technician’s office. The patient will be asked to fill out a breast history form. The examination may be in a privacy setup behind a curtain. The patient will be left for 10-15 minutes to let their body reach equilibrium with the room’s temperature. After 15 minutes the patient will be positioned in front of the camera (thermography system) to image the upper chest, underarms, and the breasts.
These images are captured in real time from the infrared imaging camera then stored. All images are stored for comparison of future images so that a baseline can be achieved. The images provide a clear view to vascular patterns, temperature differentials, and possible pathological conditions.
Once the images are captured they will be interpreted by a PACT Certified Clinical Thermologist., who will process and grade the images digitally. After analyzing the images, they are graded using a PACT standardized reading protocol.
Types of Cameras Used in Thermography
Cameras used in the industry vary considerably. The higher the resolution the better to a point (approx. 640×480). It is important to make sure the Thermologist is using FDA Cleared systems. Medical Thermal Cameras produce high-resolution, ultra-sensitive infrared images that can be translated in to heat measurements. Many changes in technology have occurred in the past 10 years. Always ask the age of the Thermologist’ s camera.
What Makes Thermography Unique?
Thermography or Digital Infrared Imaging (DITI) helps in detecting heat produced by an increased level of blood vessel circulation (angioneogenesis) and metabolic changes linked with the genesis of a tumor. Benefits to Thermography include:
- Breast Thermography is safe and comfortable.
- No Radiation
- No Contact
- No Compression
- Easy to establish a baseline
- Able to use for women with dense breasts and implants
- Well Researched for more than 30 years (more than 800 peer-reviewed studies)
- It helps to identify around 95% of the early stage of cancer in a multi-modal approach
Factors Affecting the Results of Breast Thermography
Not all tests are perfect or 100 percent accurate. It is important to combine testing for optimal outcome. The following will limit successful outcome measurements to a point”
- Patient’s age
- Ability to stay still in the proper positions
- Excessive use of bras
- Seat warmers, over exercising, caffeine use
- Medications usages including hormone pills and birth control
- Extra large breasts
The Promise of Breast Thermography
Thermology has become a valued and recognized tool in the scientific community. It is used in many disciplines of science and is growing as a viable choice for imaging the physiology of the human body. Thermography should be used by medical personnel in the fight against breast cancer and the promotion of breast health.