AC asks: “I have been told that thermography is a better alternative to mammography. Are there any concerns or dangers with thermography? Is it New Age? Would it be o.k. to undergo thermography for breast cancer screening?”
Thermography is not New Age, and can be used in conjunction with other medical tests; however, it is never to be used in place of conventional cancer screening such as mammography. The reason is because there is simply no concrete evidence to support claims that it can detect cancer earlier than conventional means. The only people who believe it can are alternative and “natural” medical providers such as Dr. Joseph Mercola who prey upon people’s fears of the radiation involved in x-rays or their dislike of chemicals.
For those of you who do not know what a thermogram is, it is an image taken of the infrared energy that is naturally emitted, transmitted and reflected by an object. (Infrared is a proven form of energy, unlike the putative “New Age” energies known as chi, universal life force, prana, etc.) Thermography uses a heat-sensing device to acquire the temperature data of a subject and the results are displayed either as different colors or on a gray scale. It can be used to detect breast cancer because there is increased metabolic activity in cancer which results in higher temperatures compared to other parts of the breast – all of which can be seen in the image.
The first thermogram was performed in 1956 by a Canadian surgeon named Ray Lawson.
While there is no real problem with the science behind thermography, research has yet to show that it is more effective at detecting cancer in its earliest stages as conventional means such as mammograms. For this reason, thermography devices have been cleared by the FDA for use as an adjunct, or additional, tool for detecting breast cancer.
“Mammography is still the most effective screening method for detecting breast cancer in its early, most treatable stages” said Helen Barr, M.D., director of the Division of Mammography Quality and Radiation Programs in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “Women should not rely solely on thermography for the screening or diagnosis of breast cancer.”
“While there is plenty of evidence that mammography is effective in breast cancer detection, there is simply no evidence that thermography can take its place,” said Barr.
But this hasn’t stopped “natural” doctors and purveyors of alternative cures from touting it as a substitute for mammograms.
For instance, the FDA has sent a warning letter to Meditherm, Inc., a provider of thermal imaging services to hospitals, for making misleading and false claims about its device known as the Meditherm Med2000. The company falsely claimed that the device “offers the opportunity of earlier detection of breast disease than has been possible through breast self examination, doctor examination or mammography alone.”
Dr. Joseph Mercola and his Natural Health Center also received a warning from the FDA to stop touting the Meditherm device as being able to provide “earlier detection” of breast disease on their website. They were also cited for claiming that thermography can benefit patients who suffer from a variety of other ailments, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, digestive disorders, herniated discs, etc.
The bottom line is that mammography is still the gold standard for detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages and any negative effects of the radiation used are considered to be offset by the benefits of this critical test.