A breast thermogram is a method whereby digital infrared imaging is used to view the breast tissue and surrounding area to detector cancerous tumors. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)says clinical studies show the method is not as effective or accurate in detecting breast cancer than 2D or 3D mammography .
The foundation of thermography is closely linked to how cancer cells grow and multiply. When abnormal cells (cancer cells) grow and multiply in a tumor, the metabolism and blood flow in the tumor is very fast. An increase in blood flow leads to an increase in skin temperature, and a thermogram is aimed at detecting the rise in skin temperature, which may occur when abnormal cells are multiplying.
A breast thermogram is a non-invasive test that lasts about 15 minutes. It is also classified as “non-compressive,” which means that no force is applied to the breast during the examination as is experienced with a mammogram.
Digital infrared imaging will detect the most subtle changes in the breast tissue, based on symmetry of the breasts. It is designed to examine abnormalities in one breast in comparison the other.
The equipment use to conduct a breast thermogram consists of a combination of highly sophisticated infrared cameras and computer software. This particular imaging system produced high resolution pictures, or heat images of the breast, which can then be printed for further investigation or study.
In order to understand thermography and more importantly a breast thermogram, it is essential to know the differences between normal breast tissue in comparison to cancerous breast tissue. Cancerous tissue demands more biochemical reactions, as well as an increase in blood flow to the affected area. These features of breast cancer tissue arise from the cancer cells metabolising all that they can to maintain and grow.
A breast thermogram can be used as a baseline diagnostic tool in women from as young as 18 years. Future tests can then be done when indicated or even as part of an annual physical examination and compared to the baseline study to depict any changes or abnormalities., including fibrocystic disease, infection or vascular disease.
Supporters of the technology say breast thermography may also be used in conjunction with mammography, making the ultimate diagnostic outcome more effective. However, the FDA and most clinical experts in breast imaging say there are more effective breast screening alternatives.
In 2017, the FDA said it received reports from healthcare providers and patients that some health centers were providing information that can mislead patients into believing that thermography is a proven alternative to mammography screening. However, the agency said it is not aware of any clinical evidence to support such claims.
Definition mammography: In mammography. the breast tissue needs to be compressed so that X-ray images of the breast can be performed. The X-rays can show cancers in white. One issue with mammograms is that about 30 percent of patients have high levels of fibroglandular density. Dense breast tissue also appears white on X-rays, so it can mask cancers. 3-D tomosynthesis mammography can improve detection rates in women with dense breasts. Breast ultrasound can also be used to better identify cancers from dense fibroglandular tissue.