Clinics offering thermography as an alternative to mammograms have been popping up in Canada and in the USA. How does thermography work? Breast cancers induce angiogenesis, which is the ingrowth of new blood vessels into a tumor to supply its nutrient and oxygen needs. These blood vessels result in additional blood flow, which results in additional heat. In addition, the metabolism of breast cancer cells tends to be faster than the surrounding tissue, and cancer is often associated with inflammation, two more reasons why the temperature of breast cancers might be higher than the surrounding normal breast tissue and therefore potentially visible using infrared thermography. Thermography can detect changes in temperature, but only near the skin surface.
Sounds good, right? The problem is that thermography is not approved by Health Canada nor the FDA as a tool for breast cancer screening. Thermography cannot diagnose breast cancer. Studies show that thermography can fail to detect breast cancers, even those that are already known to be present. There are no set standards for sensitivity or specificity, and thermography images are read by practitioners who are not trained in breast anatomy and physiology, nor advanced imaging techniques. Thermography is not covered by most health insurers, including Alberta Health Services, so patients are asked to pay out-of-pocket for a test that has not been shown to be effective for breast cancer screening.
Mammography, ultrasound, and MRI are established, effective techniques that allow trained radiologists to safely and predictably image your breasts. Ask us if you have further questions about what imaging is best for you.