We all see ads promoting early detection as a preventive measure for breast cancer, but is that really prevention? It seems that mainstream medicine focuses on early detection rather than prevention, followed by treatment and ultimately providing palliative care for those patients who are diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer. Working as a Naturopath for more than 20 years, a significant part of my life has been dedicated to various areas of preventive health care. My belief in addressing potential diseases at their inception has led me to the field of thermography, precisely because I’ve found that thermography’s most valuable role centers on the prevention of this potentially deadly disease.
Let’s first look at thermography’s role in early detection and survival.
Statistics reveal that one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime.(2) Thermography undoubtedly plays a prominent role in early detection of breast cancer. More than 800 studies in the past 30 years have established that thermography is an approved adjunctive screening procedure.(3,6) The results of a 10-year study found that thermography alone was the first warning in 60 percent of the cases of women eventually diagnosed with breast cancer.(12) Furthermore, an increased survival rate of 61 percent was observed when a thermogram was used in conjunction with a mammogram.(6) These findings support the importance of incorporating thermography as a valuable adjunct to the early detection of breast cancer.
Thermography can also serve to reduce the frequency by which mammograms are administered, thus reducing the possible risk of exposure to cancer. A current large-scale Norwegian study revealed 22 percent more invasive tumors in a group of women receiving mammograms every two years compared to those receiving one mammogram over a six-year period.(13) These findings appear to suggest that some cancers resolve themselves on their own. So why not use thermography, which poses absolutely no health risks to a woman, as a tool to assist her in making diet and lifestyle changes to actually help decrease a women’s risk for ever developing breast cancer in the first place?
To better understand how this may be possible, we need to first look at how thermography works and more specifically, how it differs from other types of imaging. Thermography is a functional test, as compared to mammography, ultrasound, and MRI, which are structural types of imaging. All are important in detecting signs that may be indicative of breast cancer. Because thermography is a functional rather than a structural test, it doesn’t have the ability to see breast tumors. However, thermography interpretation isn’t hindered by breast tissue density, fibrocysts, large breasts, or implants, which often pose reading challenges for structural tests.
Where thermography excels is in its ability to visualize minute blood vessel and temperature variations that are present, even years before the development of a tumor. (1,4,5,6)
Cancer cells need nutrients to facilitate their growth. As a result, some blood vessels remain open, some are activated, and new ones are formed. The process of these new blood vessel formations, known as neoangiogenesis, results in chemicals emitted that increase surface temperature in the affected tissue. Neoangiogenesis is important when detecting and evaluating breast masses because we know that it takes an average of six to 10 years for the average tumor to grow to be the size of a dime. At this point, it typically begins to expand at a much faster rate and is often palpable. The problem is that at this stage, it is likely to have become invasive. This is extremely important for women in the 20-to-59 age range, when breast cancer is the number one cause of death and tumors tend to be more aggressive. (2) Current mammography screening of premenopausal women can be less sensitive because of the density of the breast tissue.
With the addition of thermography, detecting and monitoring these physiological changes through time can play a significant role in helping a woman to lower her risk through time. An abnormal thermogram is the single most important marker of high risk for the future development of breast cancer.(8) In the absence of other positive tests, an abnormal thermogram can be a warning sign to a woman that she should remain vigilant about her breast health. (7,8) This can give women time to make diet and lifestyle changes to help better balance hormones and subsequently improve breast health.
Many women are not aware that thermography has the ability to detect possible hormone imbalances in the breast tissue. Studies have shown that estrogen is a significant known risk factor for the future development of breast cancer. This relates to thermography because current research reveals that a woman can have up to 50 times more estrogen in her breast tissue than her blood levels indicate.(9) This becomes important regarding how estrogen or estrogen-like compounds called zenoestrogens in our environment can contribute to estrogen dominance. I’ve observed numerous women achieve hormone balance and improve findings on their thermograms in relatively short periods.
Thermography is also instrumental in helping to monitor hormone balance in women taking synthetic or bioidentical hormones. This information can then be used by a women’s health-care practitioner to help maintain her optimal hormone balance. Even foods we eat and products we consume can affect estrogen levels. Exercise and stress management are also important. These lifestyle changes can have a big impact on hormone balance and overall health. With the addition of thermography to a woman’s regular breast health checkup, she receives individualized health-risk assessment.
In my experience, thermography has often been the first indicator of a subsequent breast cancer diagnosis, and I have seen many high-risk patients. I’ve also imaged breast cancer survivors and women undergoing adjuvant and neoadjuvant cancer treatment therapies. These experiences have confirmed the importance that thermography serves a variety of roles in the early detection of breast cancer, regardless of age.
We need to be mindful that more than 80 percent of women who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease.(2) In addition, the results of a 10-year study concluded that an abnormal thermogram was 10 times more significant than a first-order family history of breast cancer. (7) The vast majority of my patients are forward thinking in regard to taking care of themselves. They are interested in or may already be taking steps to improve their diet, make lifestyle changes, and balance hormones. It’s validating for a woman to know that she can play a principal role in improving her health and lowering her risk through time. I envision thermography in the future not as an alternative to mainstream medicine, but as an essential tool that empowers women to take a proactive role in their overall health.
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- Ahlgren P., MD, et al.” Is it Time to Reassess the Value of Infrared Breast Imaging?” Primary Care & Cancer (NCI)2 (1998).
- American Cancer Society – Breast Cancer Guidelines and Statistics, 2016.
- Arora N, et al., “Effectiveness of a Noninvasive Digital Infrared Imaging System in the Detection of Breast Cancer.” Am J Surg. 2008 Oct; 196(4):523-6
- Belliveau N., M.D., et al. “Infrared Imaging of the Breast: Initial Reappraisal Using High-Resolution Digital Technology in 100 Successive Cases of Stage I and II Breast Cancer.” The Breast Journal 4 (1998).
- Gamigami P., M.D. Atlas of Mammography: New Early Signs in Breast Cancer. Blackwell Science, 1996.
- Gautherie M., Ph.D. “Thermobiological Assessment of Benign and Malignant Breast Diseases.” J. Obstet. Gynecol. 147.8 (1983): 861-869.
- Gros C., M.D., M. Gautherie, Ph.D. “Breast Thermography and Cancer Risk Prediction.” Cancer1 (1980): 51-56.
- Haehnel P., M.D., et al. “Long-Term Assessment of Breast Cancer Risk by Thermal Imaging.” Biomedical Thermology (1980): 279-301.
- Jefcoate, C.R., et al: Chapter 5 – Tissue-Specific Synthesis and Oxidative Metabolism of Estrogens. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, No. 27, 95-112, 2000.
- Keyserlingk J., M.D. “Time to Reassess the Value of Infrared Breast Imaging?” Oncology News Int. 6.9 (1997).
- Nyirjesy I., M.D. et al. “Clinical Evaluation, Mammography and Thermography in the Diagnosis of Breast Carcinoma.” Thermology 1 (1986): 170-173.
- Spitalier H. et al., “Does Infrared Thermography Truly have a Role in Present-Day Breast Cancer Management?” in M. Gautherie and E. Albert, eds., Biomedical Thermology: Proceedings of an international Symposium. (New York: A.R. Liss, 1982), 269-78.
- Zahl, Per-Henrik, MD, PhD et al., “The Natural History of Invasive Breast Cancers Detected by Screening.” Archives of Internal Medicine. 2008; 168 (21): 2311-2316.