The Value of Breast Thermal Imaging
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Breast thermography offers women information that no other procedure can provide. However, breast thermography is not a replacement for or alternative to mammography or any other form of breast imaging. Breast thermography is meant to be used in addition to mammography and other tests or procedures. Breast thermography and mammography are complementary procedures; one test does not replace the other. All thermography reports identify thermal emissions that are markers only of breast health, and do not in any way suggest diagnosis and/or treatment. Studies show that the earliest detection is realised when multiple tests are used together. This multimodal approach includes breast self-examinations, physical breast exams by a doctor, mammography, ultrasound, MRI, thermography, and other tests that may be ordered by your doctor.
Breast thermography is a physiological test that provides information on temperature and infrared heat patterns of the breast.1 Because the skin naturally emits thermal radiation (heat), it is well suited to infrared imaging.2 Thermography differs from mammography in that it provides information on the biological activity of the breast versus the gross internal anatomy.3 Infrared imaging is therefore a functional test whereas mammography is a structural test.4
As a functional test, thermography can detect breast abnormalities that other screening methods cannot identify, namely thermal and vascular changes. The increased metabolic activity seen on a breast thermogram can be an indication of changes to breast health.5 These functional changes are thought to take place before the onset of structural changes that can occur in diseased states. A persistent abnormal thermogram can alert the physician to the need for further investigation and identify women who need to be more closely monitored.6-8
Because thermograms in a healthy woman remain remarkably constant, serial thermograms can assess tissue changes over time. A healthy initial thermogram can therefore serve as a baseline to compare future thermograms against.9
Note: Breast thermography offers women information about breast health that no other test can provide. Because breast thermography cannot provide information on the exact anatomic detail of the breast or define a specific area that may need to be biopsied, it should be combined with an anatomical test such as mammography, ultrasound or MRI.9, 10 As a functional test, thermography cannot identify the specific cause of physiological changes to breast tissue. For this reason, it serves as a risk marker and complementary modality, rather than a stand alone assessment tool.11, 12
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6. Isard HJ, Becker W, Shilo R, Ostrum BJ. Breast thermography after four years and 10000 studies. Am J Roentgenol Radium Ther Nucl Med. Aug 1972;115(4):811-821.
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9. Kennedy DA, Lee T, Seely D. A comparative review of thermography as a breast cancer screening technique. Integr Cancer Ther. Mar 2009;8(1):9-16.
10. Agnese DM. Advances in breast imaging. Surg Technol Int. 2005;14:51-56.
11. Head JF, Wang F, Lipari CA, Elliott RL. The important role of infrared imaging in breast cancer. IEEE Eng Med Biol Mag. May-Jun 2000;19(3):52-57.
12. Ng EY, Sudharsan NM. Computer simulation in conjunction with medical thermography as an adjunct tool for early detection of breast cancer. BMC Cancer. Apr 28 2004;4:17.